Streetfilms: Drivers Behaving Rudely

Cars blocking crosswalks, drivers failing to yield to pedestrians, unnecessary honking — New Yorkers have to contend with these violations every day on nearly every corner in the city.

As Streetsblog publisher Mark Gorton says in this Streetfilm, most drivers are not bad or mean people, but few seem to realize how their conduct behind the wheel inconveniences and endangers pedestrians. It’s a level of rudeness and carelessness that we tend not to tolerate in other spheres of life, especially when you consider the risks involved in piloting a multi-ton vehicle. New Yorkers can get brusque or nasty on the subway, but you rarely see straphangers engage in behavior that poses an immediate danger to the people around them. So what is it about driving a car that lets people disregard the safety of others?

  • James

    Tom Vanderbilt’s “Traffic” talks about this. When a driver gets behind the wheel, some kind of psychological mechanism makes it so the driver basically becomes the vehicle. Users of other modes (pedestrians, cyclists, and what have you) therefore become the psychological other, as do all other motorists. The urge to communicate is fundamental to human psychology. The nature of the automobile makes effective communication impossible – you’re hermetically sealed in a steel cage on wheels with no real way to make contact with those outside the vehicle. There are only two ways to communicate: via honking and via aggressive driving. The latter is basically just vehicular body language and the former is like having the ability to speak, but possessing a vocabulary of one word. This is why a friendly honk upon seeing a friend can easily be interpreted as f*** you by the motorist beside you.

    In short, the contraptions generate frustration and animosity between the driver and those around them by their very nature.

  • Ian Turner

    It’s very validating to have one’s outrage at the behavior of motorists captured so eloquently on film. Thanks for doing this, Mark & Clarence.

  • Having worn out shoe rubber on the streets of dozens of cities here and abroad, I have to say that this is not just a driver problem (not that I’m ever inclined to let drivers off easy). It’s a New York driver problem.

    As James points out above, part of the problem is that they’re sealed into their cars. In New York, that sealing is especially fraught with emotion because their cars protect them from almost infinitely hostile conditions on the street — pollution, noise, physical hazard.

    What makes our streets that way? Cars, or more specifically, forcing cars into a city that was designed for walking and transit. So the phenomenon is circular and self-reinforcing.

    The only solution is to eliminate cars to the extent possible, making New York the car-free (or at least car-light) city it should be. We already have the street grid and transit systems necessary to make this possible. It’s just a matter of will.

  • Nate Briggs

    As another reader of Tom Vanderbilt’s book, I completely agree with James about the mental attitudes that lead to this behavior.

    But I think the legal foundation of this also needs to be addressed. Drivers behave this way because they CAN.

    No one is motioning them out of the crosswalk as a prelude to receiving a citation. No one in blue is walking up to them and saying “Stop doing that!”

    No cop ever climbed into the upper echelons of law enforcement by enforcing traffic laws. And, of course, the root of that perspective is that cars are not – and cannot – be “deadly weapons”.

    Unless that attitude changes, traffic enforcement is just an unpleasant chose. It is not “protecting the public”.

    Nate (Salt Lake City)

  • Ironic we posted this Streetfilm the same day Post attacks jaywalking.

    Now I will not defend jaywalking, but anyone familiar with NYC knows drivers commit far more infractions then pedestrians. Then add to that fact that drivers are surrounded by a speeding one or two ton metal vehicle, they have far more responsibility to drive civilly and safely. The Post got it all wrong, they should be attacking the fact that these infractions are almost never ticketed allowing the driving public to feel as if they are sometimes above the law.

  • Craig

    And don’t touch any of those cars driven by the rude people through the pedestrians in the crosswalks. As we have seen on this web site you will be arrested.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “New Yorkers can get brusque or nasty on the subway.”

    Sort of an untold story — in many, many years and thousands of trips, I’ve never seen anyone get brusque or nasty on the subway. People do rush to get on the train and then cluelessly stop right in the door when they have made it, and do sometimes block the door on the way out, but that’s about it.

    I’ve seen more brusque and nasty behavior on the LIRR, which I have taken rarely (and not in the past 18 years).

  • Ed Throckmorton

    It’s all about structure – if the streets were designed correctly, automobile use would be de-prioritized – we need more neck-downs, speed-bumps and streets closed to automoblie access. Even the structure of the actual car has problems: in all 50 states and in most of the world it is illegal to “honk” – use a car horn just to express annoyance – so why do car horns work when the vehicle is not in motion?

  • Bev

    I thought we New Yorkers were better than this. “Pedestrians have the right of way” “don’t block the box” . . . it’s not brain surgery.

    Perhaps these people live, breathe, and die in their cars. It’s like they have no concept of what’s going on around them – complete disregard for others. Isn’t that a sign of a sociopath??

  • Brian

    This video is so one sided it leads me to believe that the producers have never tried driving in NYC which is exceedingly difficult. I am not someone who drives into or out of the city or around all day, but I was born and raised here, learned how to drive here and have a car I use to escape the city or get around on weekends. Most of the videos of a driver stuck in a crosswalk you see there, I can guarantee, is not because the driver was rude. It is because he/she is now stuck there with no other option. If you look closely there is a string of cars behind him, so he can’t back up, and traffic going in the other direction, so he can’t move forward – besides the fact that there are now pedestrians there he would hit and it is illegal for him. So your only/best option is to sit there, which leaves you self-conscious, the target of people yelling at you are hitting your car, and even in a spot where you can be ticketed. The usual reason for this is that some traffic condition prevented you from getting through the crosswalk before the light changed and the traffic in the other direction made it impossible for you to move forward. Sometimes this is an unexpected stop in traffic, sometimes this is due to pedestrians and jaywalking, sometimes it is even a traffic cop that causes the problem. To pick on these people and call them rude is just unfair and ill-informed.

    Also the bit showing aggressive turning…put yourself in a taxi driver’s shoes for a minute. When was the last time you saw all the pedestrians at an intersection stop to let the cars turn? Never! Yet the cars stop and have to wait until guess what, the light has changed and they cannot legally turn. The only option is to be aggressive. There is no sharing or merging etiquette like among drivers of “I go, then you go”. There is no other choice.

    Look I agree that it can be scary, and dangerous. But to blame drivers is not fair or reasonable, and to tie it to some pop-psychology crap is worse. NYC is a difficult place to live, drive, walk, etc. You don’t like, it move to Portland.

  • Gary Toth

    Great work, Mark and Clarence.

    Commenters here refer to different reasons for rude driver behavior, and… they are all right.

    Current street design practice in America is almost universally auto centric. It screams to drivers that “this is your space” and puts pedestrians on the defensive. While this may be appropriate for the New York Thruway, it certainly is not for Broadway or Main Street USA. America needs to learn from countries like the Netherlands whose “self explaining streets” have led to a national environment where drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists all understand the rules for sharing streets, whether the street be a thruway or a local street. As a result, they have reduced their roadway fatality rate from being equal to ours in the 1970s to less than half of ours today.

    If we followed suit, 23,000 more Americans would have returned home to their families last year. That is almost 8 times more than were lost in 9/11, and we would save those lives each year! We mobilized, committed billions, and relinquished some personal rights in reaction to 9/11, yet as a nation we still accept poorly designed roads and rude and reckless behavior as being too costly to address. Go figure.

    The tendency of humans to behave poorly once they get behind the wheel, is not new. There is a Disney cartoon from 1956 which stars Goofy turning into a crazed maniac once he wraps himself in his tons of steel on wheels. Seek it out, it will make you laugh and then almost cry! 1956!

    Nate Briggs makes a good point. In states like California where police will ticket you for driving your car into a crosswalk while pedestrians are still present, driver respect for pedestrians is far greater.

    We need more publicity like that which Clarence and Mark have created here. Bravo!

  • Bev

    I spent years and years and years driving in nyc myself – true, it’s not easy . . . but if you drive on the cautious side with the mentality “yellow” means stop – these situations are completely AVOIDABLE in any street condition or time of day. Keeping calm and patient is harder than driving in the city but it’s NOT impossible.

  • Driving in NYC is easy once you’re practiced and disciplined. Disagreein’ with everything Brian’s posted.

    > driver stuck in a crosswalk… is not because the driver was rude. It is because he/she is now stuck there with no other option

    Failure to anticipate. Driver entered the intersection without a space on the other side to cross it. Never do this, and you’ll never block the box. Driver wasn’t consciously rude, he was unconsciously rude, which has exactly the same effect.

    > Sometimes this is an unexpected stop

    YOU failed to expect it, this is your failure, take responsibility.

    > There is no sharing or merging etiquette like among drivers of “I go, then you go”. There is no other choice.

    Actually, there is, it’s just disrespected by many. If both cars and peds have the right of way (extremely dangerous, by the way) then you stay under 5mph, you keep your foot on the brake, and pedestrians get a yard from your bumper. Cars yield to pedestrians unless they’ve got lots of backpressure, in which case they gently demand holes in the ped flow for two-cars-at-a-time crossing.

    Cars awaiting their turn should position themselves at a twenty degree angle to the flowing roadway, parallel with the parked cars, and clear the travel lanes behind them to minimize backpressure.

    Much of this failure to respect turning etiquette in NYC has to do with the flood of Jersey drivers. New Jersey, and to a lesser extent Long Island, have very different driver etiquette, incompatible with New York’s. This is part of my rationale for five-boro local driver’s licenses.

    I also make eye contact and hand gestures with other drivers regularly. Tinted windows should be illegal.

    > sometimes it is even a traffic cop that causes the problem.

    With this I’ll agree. Cops have waved me through reds into intersections such as Tillary/Adams and Houston/1ave, with blind and flowing cross-traffic, twice on my bike and many more in my car.


    > To pick on these people and call them rude is just unfair and ill-informed.

    You may just be a bad driver, mate.

  • archie

    Brian, I agree with you for the most part, but the bigger issue is that all users are forced to accomodate an infrastructure centered around cars. While it’s easy to antagonize the drivers who don’t “get it”, we should use this as evidence that we must adjust the infrastructure so that these dangerous and stressful encounters and situations you speak of are avoided in the first place.

  • Ed

    I fight with drivers on a regular basis about making turns or blocking the crosswalk. This really shows that the city needs to deal with this.
    Send the video to the Mayor and DOT as well as the police

  • Eric

    While I found Mr. Eckerson’s self righteous indignation very amusing this is nothing new. This has been going for the past 40 years that I have either lived in or visited NYC. While I’m not always thrilled it happens, it is part of living in any major city.

    I loved the moment in the film when he announced he was “walking” in spite of the oncoming car entering the cross walk. Your self righteousness is not going to protect you from the 2000 pound car. Try some common sense in the future.

  • Lars


    Simple question: WHY does it have the be part of living in any major city? It is not the same in many countries in Europe and certainly U.S. cities on the West Coast have a better attitude.

    Many used to say that being jostled, uncomfortable, and stressed was part of visiting Times Square. Now it is not.


  • BB

    If I were a ped I would have a mouth full of cool aid for their rudeness. Yea they were going to hit me and I reacted.

  • Eric

    Lars, the difference is long term enforcement of existing laws by the police. Until that happens it is a fact of life when living in a city with a high density population. Instead of making indignant video’s Mr. Eckerson should be working on a way to get the police to enforce existing traffic laws.

  • Glenn

    I drive in the city occasionally and there is no reason to aggressively turn while pedestrians are crossing the street. The folks behind you can honk all they want, but they can’t see what the lead driver at an intersection can.

    Muscling through an intersection by intimidating pedestrians or driving within inches of them is an unacceptable risk and completely unnecessary. It’s the same as speeding in crowded urban areas – it’s a selfish act that prioritizes the driver’s time over the public’s safety.

  • Not within inches. I said a yard, under 5mph, with your foot on the brake, with eye contact and optional body language. Quit strawmanning.

    Do it my way and nobody will be honking because pedestrians and cars will switch through the crosswalk efficiently. People and cars both clump up, and move in turn.

    You drive occasionally, you’re probably inexperienced. Consider driving more or not at all.

  • LisaB

    I definately disagree that this kind of rude and dangerous driver behaviour is a fact of life in major cities. it’s actually only a fact of life in cities that tolerate it. I’ve been to plenty of big cities where drivers are respectful of pedestrians.

    The fact that so many people in NYC are so used to it that they don’t even notice (it’s amazing in that video, people don’t even do a double take at a car that just about nips their feet as it squeezes by – that would be shocking behaviour where I live), that’s part of the problem. If there was social pressure for drivers to just follow the law (i.e. don’t enter an intersection unless your exit is clear), if pedestrians stood up for their rights, if cops enforced these things then a new norm would emerge (eventually).

    I remember when I moved from Ottawa, Ontario – where cars come to a sudden stop if you even look at a crosswalk – to Madison, WI and I nearly died crossing the street because the culture there is to NEVER yeild to a pedestrian (learned that fast). Both places have the exact same laws. One place has created a culture that respects the law (and consequently pedestrians, and lives), one place has been lax and a new culture has emerged.

  • At the climax of the first “Alien” film Sigourney Weaver straps herself into a huge robotic anthropoid cargo-moving machine to battle the Alien with the words: “Come on you bitch!”

    In certain ways this seems to address some of the direct structural violence of transportation systems based on automobiles where the bigger more powerful, heavily armored, and faster vehicles win. The very violent film “Road Warrior” and a lot of others seem to have capitalized on this idea. The vehicles that make the most noise also seem to have a distinct advantage.

    The idea of structural violence kind of originated to equate the lack of suitable healthcare by the poor (which can be very painful) which is a passive situation with violent situations which are viscerally very wrong and people are much more apt to remedy. It probably does not make a lot of sense to say that war is structurally violent since it is a trivial metaphor although ironically many times more Americans are killed in road accidents in this country than during the Iraq war on a daily basis.

    And, the machine advantage in transportation systems based on automobiles may also have some influence in creating more aggressive psychological states perhaps caused by an elevated sense of entitlement, power, frustration, with reduced vulnerability, etc. but, the structural violence of these systems goes beyond mere psychological states.

  • Clarence


    Not totally sure if I am 100% following you there, but referencing some great flicks when talking about transportation is absolute genius.

  • Second film. ‘Aliens’. And while I otherwise agree with you, you probably don’t want to cite that film specifically, because I think everyone wants one of those cargo movers. I sure do.

  • sue

    I have lived in Philly and lived in Boulder, CO and agree with the woman who said it is a matter of the culture of the town. In Philly, they do the “nudge” all the time. When I moved to Boulder, of course I expected it, but here, most of the time people give bikes and peds the right of way. I found it hard to get used to – even though I am the bike or ped! But it is a matter of the respect your city gives to bikes and peds. At least that seems to be somewhat of the difference (maybe a bit of east coast vs. mtn states thing, too). Maybe as more of the city space in NYC is allocated to bikes and peds, they will start to get the respect they deserve.
    P.S. Good job, as always, Clarence!

  • It’s not just rude.

    It’s surprising that this extremely dangerous and unjustified behavior is tolerated. I really don’t see much difference between nudging a pedestrian and the brandishing of a firearm.

    Sadly, it’s just another example of how messed up our transportation priorities are.

    Thanks for producing this.

  • The tendency of humans to behave poorly once they get behind the wheel, is not new. There is a Disney cartoon from 1956 which stars Goofy turning into a crazed maniac once he wraps himself in his tons of steel on wheels. Seek it out, it will make you laugh and then almost cry! 1956!

    I sought it, and found it, on YouTube. So true. Thanks, Gary!

    BTW, whenever I hear someone honking at a driver who is actually yielding to pedestrians, I try to tell the honker to knock it off.

    Also, if any of you studied the rules of the road, you’ll remember that the instructions of a police officer supersede anything else. In that capacity, whatever they say is the law. They’re not enforcing the rules of the road, they’re making them, and they have that right. If they choose to shoo all the pedestrians out of the crosswalk in order to let a car go through a red, that’s the law and you’re expected to obey it. It may not be fair, but it’s perfectly legal.

  • Felix

    Eric, you’re so right. It’s not just aggressive drivin – murder, rape, and robbery have always been part of big city life and yet people still make a big deal about them. Move to the country if you can’t handle the big city, I say.

  • How one man deals with blocked intersections and cars parked on sidewalks…

  • Couldn’t agree more with what I take to be the essential point of the video, but the execution doesn’t do the subject justice.

    Starting off by focusing on people who block the box and the consequent need for pedestrians to walk a little bit more to get around them is much weaker than the later video of close shaves and how unsparing those are: people of all ages in danger of being killed for another person’s (incredibly slight) convenience.

    Like others, I think “rude” seems too mild for much of the behavior here. Maybe German has a word that means “not fully intent on killing or dismembering another person but completely open to the possibility if it’ll shave six seconds off a trip,” as that’s the label I’d apply. People misstep, trip, all kinds of things–the slightest problem on the pedestrian’s part could mean they end up dead. It’s criminal behavior on the part of drivers, and it’s incredibly pervasive.

    I think we should replace the phrase “windshield bias” with “bumper bias.”

  • J

    This is perhaps my favorite example of a pedestrian standing up for herself toward a rude driver in a crosswalk.


  • J:Lai

    A lot of good points brought up here.

    One small thing that I try to do is to always refer to the driver, not the car, when describing any traffic incident.

    Saying “that driver ran a red light”, “that driver almost hit me”, instead of “that car” helps reinforce the point that it is a human making the decision to behave this way, and not some impersonal machine.

  • martin treat

    Great work: told like it is. We in Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen face these abusive drivers every day and night. We must tell the Mayor and his DOT that pedestrians should not be forced to share the crossing with vehicles: completely separate signaling and buffered zones. We are so thankful for your film and look forward to the fight ahead.
    Martin and Kathleen Treat, HKNA, CHEKPEDS.

  • Lee

    This brings to light an important issue. Problem is that most drivers take a test at 17 or 18 years old and once they pass are never required to reconsider their driving habits again. The mindset of drivers seems to be that no-one should ever inconvenience them – otherwise they honk, cut you off, or almost hit you. A driver who nearly hit me this week told me I should move to another avenue and ride in a bike lane. Drivers need to be reminded that pedestrians and bikes have a legitimate claim to the street space, and we all need to share.

    New York law is that pedestrians have the right of way, and turning cars are required to yield to them. If you’re driving and turning, you may not like it, but you have to wait for the pedestrians to finish crossing the street. Try taking a couple of deep breaths.

    Don’t try to disguise “might makes right” as common sense.

  • hess

    To most people on this forum, GTFO.

    To those comparing NYC to other American cities, GTFO. Top 2 cities with the highest population density:
    1. NYC 27,440/sq mi (10,606/km2)
    -Manhattan 71,201/sq mi (27,490.9/km2)
    2. San Fran 17,323/sq mi (6,688.4/km2)

    Manhattan is 3x more dense than SF. For legitimate comparison, use HK. Or Mumbai. And if you ahve been to either, you won’t be whiny and making useless videos anymore. Bloomberg has made you all a bunch of babies.

  • #36 hess, “. . . whiny and making useless videos . . .”

    An obscene comment considering the local weekly carnage which palls in comparison with that which is happening in the developing world.

  • Rene

    There are a lot of a-hole drivers who do those things depicted in this clip… the honking at cars who are waiting for peds to cross is a particular pet peeve on mine. Being a city dweller I am in favor of stronger pedestrian and biker protections.
    I do drive into the city sometimes for my job (need to, to transport a very large I object I work with) and I must say it is very easy to get caught in a crosswalk while driving… it sucks, and I always feel apologetic about it, but it is not always the drivers fault. The city needs to change the way it deals with traffic to make it more ped and bike friendly.

  • Over the past few weeks I’ve actually noticed more drivers stopping before they get in an intersection they don’t think they’ll be able to clear. Looks like the new block-the-box law is having some effect. Some of them are even avoiding blocking the crosswalk.

  • poncho

    when a car stops in a crosswalk, pedestrians crossing many times accidentally brush gently against either the front or back of the car and/or gently touch the car with their hand. of course the reason one touches the car is that you sometimes need to hold on when a large crowd has to squeeze through the narrow crossing space that their car created for the pedestrians.

    nothing makes a motorist more uncomfortable than someone touching their car and being surrounded by a mob of people, so that should be enough to discourage most motorists from doing it except by accident.


3 More Killed This Weekend as 100 Rally for Pedestrian Safety

Against the backdrop of news that three more pedestrians were killed on Saturday, a hundred people rallied for pedestrian safety on the steps of City Hall on Sunday. Karla Quintero of Transportation Alternatives, above, started with a moment of silence for those killed by the automobile on the streets of New York and called for 2,000 fewer pedestrian […]

StreetFilm: Crosswalks #1

From StreetFilms’ Clarence Eckerson Jr.: With all the great achievements that are abounding in the livable streets movement, sometimes we need to revisit reality. Recently, I stumbled upon a cache of traffic b-roll I was gathering during the summer of cars infringing on pedestrian rights. I’ll gamble we’ve all seen worse scenes, probably daily, but […]