Wellesley Man Killed By Hit and Run Driver: Is Human Empathy Dead Too?

Yesterday, a bicyclist was killed by a car driver in Wellesley. The victim was identified as Alexander Motsenigos, a Wellesley resident.

Mr. Motsenigos was hit by a car near the intersection of Weston Road and Linden Street, just before 2:00 PM on Friday. He was taken to Newton Wellesley Hospital, where efforts to save his life failed. Mr. Motsenigos was wearing a bicycle safety helmet when he was struck, police said. He was 41 years old. As of the time of this post, I do not know whether Mr. Motsenigos was married, had children, or other personal details.

Beyond the “God, that’s terrible” reaction this story produces, it gets worse. Much worse. According to Wellesley Police Department, this was a hit and run accident: The driver of the car that struck this man just took off – left him lying in the road, dying. That’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? Yet, on an anecdotal level at least, this inhuman behavior appears to be occurring with increased frequency. Just a couple of months ago, here in my own town of Westwood, a woman was hit and gravely injured on Washington Street, in the Islington neighborhood of town. The driver left her lying in the road, alongside her dog, which had been killed in the collision.

What is it with people, that this abhorrent behavior can take place? Yes, an accident can happen at any time to anyone, and it’s unintentional – that’s why it’s called an “accident.” As a Westwood, Massachusetts pedestrian-car accident lawyer, I see motor vehicle accidents and injuries every day. But to just drive away after such an accident, and leave another human being lying in the street like so much road kill? How is it that this kind of behavior can increasingly take place in a “civilized” society?

I have a theory: People have become desensitized in their dealings with others, to a shocking degree, and it’s largely due to the de-personalization with which we “interact” with each other every day.

• People don’t actually talk to people on the phone anymore: We deal with automated voice systems: “Press 1 if you want this; 2 if you want that.” Dealing with a live person anymore? What’s that?
• People rarely deal with bank tellers anymore: We press a button at an ATM.
• People don’t interact with gas station attendants anymore. We don’t know the local service station owner and maybe ask how his family is. We swipe a card at an automated pump.
• We don’t sit down with real “friends” anymore and connect on a personal level. We text them because it’s “easier.”
• We don’t even make eye contact with a toll booth operator. If but for a fleeting second. We have an electronic transponder in our windshield, and we race through.

A million examples can be offered here, but I believe the point is obvious: Technology and social media have de-sensitized us to interacting with other people. The result? The uncivil and undignified behavior we see growing around us every day: If you’re at a red light that turns green and you don’t leap on the gas immediately when the light changes, the angry driver behind you will lean on his horn. If you’re doing 65 on the highway and someone wants to get ahead, the driver behind you will cut you off and flash you the finger ragefully as he/she passes you by. If you’re in a check-out line at a store and don’t immediately move out of the way once your transaction is complete, you’ll get angry, exasperated harrumphs from the person behind you.

This is “progress”; “getting us ahead”? I say it’s taking us down.

Importantly, I’m not saying that technology is singularly responsible for hit and run drivers. But I am saying that a great deal of technology has removed the interpersonal element of everyday living, and the human empathy such interactions produce. On a wider population level, that has unavoidable social and behavioral consequences. Re-connecting with others on a more meaningful level may not solve the world’s problems or completely prevent tragedies of the kind that killed Alexander Motsenigos, but it wouldn’t hurt.