Blaming the Pedestrian, Again

Despite the growing national attention to the dangers posed by distracted driving, full accountability for drivers who kill or maim pedestrians while fiddling with electronic devices is likely a long way off. As today’s post from Streetsblog Network member Sustainable Savannah notes, law enforcement officials too often seem to see things from the perspective of the person behind the windshield:

dont-walk_1.jpgPhoto: hebedesign via Flickr

While researching a recent pedestrian death in Savannah, I ran across this television news report,
which I think deserves to be examined on its own. If I’m hearing him
correctly, this is the message delivered by a Savannah Chatham
Metropolitan Police officer:

"Someone could be looking down at their cellphone. Next
thing they know they look up and there’s a kid in the road or a person
in the road where they are not supposed to be at. And they don’t have
time to stop. And like I said, pedestrians will lose that battle every

Perhaps this short comment from the officer was taken from a longer
segment in which he railed against distracted driving. I hope that’s
the case and if so, I commend him for it. But if not, it suggests a
terribly casual attitude toward an awfully dangerous practice.

Sustainable Savannah links to Tom Vanderbilt’s recent excellent essay on Slate, "In Defense of Jaywalking." Read it if you haven’t already. It is a concise and well-researched examination of the biases against pedestrians — biases that are reflected in media coverage and law enforcement, but most importantly, in street design.

More from around the network: Transportation for America will be hosting an online discussion December 7 on conservatives and public transportation. Biker Chicks of West Chester decries the push to register bikes in Philadelphia. And Mobilizing the Region talks about how transit operating aid is the best route to job creation.

  • I think the reason why a windshield perspective prevails almost universally is that in this country, sprawl and lack of high-quality mass transit means that life without a car can severely restrict your access to workplaces, retail, and social opportunities and thus dramatically lower your quality of life. Even in transit-rich New York City, where the majority of residents are car-free, our 24-hour mass transit system is far from being the best that it could be in speed, frequency, coverage, and comfort, and we are all painfully aware of the thousand little sacrifices we make to use the system, especially late at night and on weekends. So, are we really surprised when the police, juries, and individuals reflexively diminish the driver’s responsibility and blame the pedestrian (or bicyclist)? Because we all “have” to drive, and we drivers don’t mean to hurt anyone, and any one of us could have been behind the wheel when this happened, and life without a car is simply…unthinkable.

  • drewo

    Article with a similar theme in today’s Arizona (Tucson) Star:

    “Police: Crosswalks don’t guarantee safety”

    Some, uh, lowlights:
    /Each of the recent incidents [6 people, including 3 children] have occurred in crosswalks, police said. But just because someone is in a crosswalk doesn’t mean it’s safe — or even legal — to cross.
    “Yes. The pedestrian has the right of way, but it doesn’t make the driver wrong if someone runs out in front of them,” Lopez said./

  • “”Police: Crosswalks don’t guarantee safety”

    I saw nothing wrong with the article. The article pointed out both kinds of cases in which the motorist was at fault and ones where the pedestrian is at fault. The moral of the story is that pedestrians have responsibilities as well as drivers. They also outlined rules for motorists in the sidebar.


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