In a remarkable move confirming the Tappan Zee bridge in New York is a perfect suicide machine — over the last decade more than 25 people have leapt 138 feet in the air to find death in the Hudson River below — the New York State Thruway Authority installed “suicide prevention phones” on each side of the bridge.

The 3-mile-long Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge, which opened in 1955, has no walkway. Would-be suicides tend to drive to midspan, stop their cars in an outside lane, scale the barrier and jump, said Ramesh Mehta, the Thruway’s regional director. The four phones — two each on the Rockland and Westchester county sides — provide direct links to the Lifeline suicide prevention hot line, which would connect callers to counselors at LifeNet or Covenant House, the authority said Tuesday.

State troopers stationed in Tarrytown would be sent to the phones. Gary Spielmann, a consultant to the state Bridge Authority, said, “Many individuals who attempt to jump from bridges are deeply ambivalent about dying, and the placement of phones on bridges is a way of reaching those individuals and reassuring them that life is worth living.” “The human voice and presence,” he added, “is the best way of connecting these individuals to the services available.”

Are those suicide phones truly preventative or do they only deter those who are already open to the idea of not ending their lives? Are cellphones not just as simple a deterrent as dedicated “suicide phones?” Is there any dangerous humiliation in being watched as you place a public call on a suicide phone attached to a bridge serving 150,000 cars a day across seven lanes?

11 Comments

  1. Now you’re being silly, Karvain! 😀
    Let’s also put the suicide phones near the meat counter of the local supermarket and attach them to each car and every box of matches.
    Wait… we already do that… with our cellular phones! :mrgreen:

  2. I think I see what you’re saying – if we put up hand holding to prevent one form of suicide, where do we stop? Do we put up a suicide hotline on tylenol or sleep medications to stop people from overdosing? Do we put similar phones on every boat a person could ride? The doors of airplanes? Should we put up signs in new homes above electrical outlets saying that people planning on electrocuting themselves should call first? Hmm.

  3. Hi Gordon!
    Yes, that’s the point I’m trying to make today. Most bridge jumps either happen without pause, or there’s “drama” created and the police are called to tell the person to get down off the bridge and they do. The phones seem to be a patina curing over an ordinary brogue.

  4. By the same token: Why bother installing public fire alarms? Y’know, since everyone has a cellphone?
    I don’t see what there is to get worked up about. If a out-in-the-open, highly visual phone comes into view of a potential jumper, maybe that’ll be just enough to make him/her stop and reconsider. If that helps prevent even one suicide, it’ll be worth it.
    Also, note that lots of other major bridge spans have emergency/suicide phones installed, including the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Of course they don’t prevent all suicides — tall order, that — but I don’t see major consequential harm from having them there.

  5. CT —
    Fire Alarms are there to warn a large group of people that there is a fire in a building so they can safely escape the danger. Most homes and fewer apartments do not have fire alarms that require direct activation by an end user.
    I’m disturbed by the misplaced false holiness and system of values these suicide phones purport to protect.
    I’d much prefer the money were spent to feed hungry children in the urban core who want to live than on those who choose to clamber up a bridge to end theirs.