Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s claim last week that 66 percent of pedestrian injuries “are directly related to the actions of pedestrians” was unsourced and at odds with existing research, but already it seems to be shaping NYPD’s enforcement efforts.
On a horrifically violent weekend during which three pedestrians and one cyclist were killed by motorists on NYC streets, officers from the 24th Precinct were dispensing jaywalking tickets at 96th and Broadway. Cops bloodied the face of one ticket recipient, 84-year-old Kang Wong, after he reportedly didn’t understand what was happening and walked away from the stop.
Police were also out ticketing motorists for moving violations, so the stepped up enforcement seems to be nabbing genuinely dangerous behavior as well. But the pedestrian stings are an embarrassment for a purportedly data-driven department that has just set out to drastically reduce traffic deaths.
Where is the traffic safety global success story that relies on punishing pedestrians? Name one.
In fact, the proven model — exemplified by the Netherlands — does not hold pedestrians at fault in the event of a collision, even if they disobeyed the letter of the law. By applying a “strict liability” legal framework to traffic crashes, the Dutch have codified the notion that when you drive a multi-ton vehicle, it’s incumbent upon you to do everything possible to avoid striking pedestrians and cyclists. This has saved lives: Fewer than half as many people are killed in traffic per capita in the Netherlands as in the U.S.
New York does not currently have a strict liability legal framework for traffic crashes, except in cases involving impaired driving. But the basic concept can still be applied to traffic enforcement by ticketing only violations with the potential to inflict injury on other people. Jaywalking is not one of those violations.
Sometimes, jaywalking might even be safer than not jaywalking. The fact is that if you’re walking in New York, you’re at risk whether you cross the street with the signal or not. More pedestrians are injured while crossing in the crosswalk with the signal than while crossing midblock or against the signal, according to a study of Bellevue trauma patients by NYU Langone Medical Center.
The reason why crossing with the signal exposes you to injury is that a lot of drivers don’t yield to pedestrians while turning. Many drivers are traveling too fast for conditions and can’t react in time. And many are distracted from the task of navigating crowded urban streets, which should demand their full attention. There is nothing ambiguous about these three violations. Speeding, failure to yield, and distracted driving kill people, and they contribute to the majority of pedestrian injuries and deaths.
In the era of Vision Zero, NYPD needs to deter behavior that kills, not harass people for exercising their judgment about how to safely walk the city’s treacherous streets.