Heads Up, NYC DOT: Walking While Listening to Music Is Still Not Illegal

The new NYC DOT “Heads Up” PSA featuring New York Knicks point guard Baron Davis may get points for star power, but when it comes to messaging, it’s a brick.

The spot features a dribbling Davis tossing a basketball at a texting pedestrian, directing a salmoning cyclist to reverse course and shouting at a motorist for skidding into a crowded crosswalk.

Taking the ad at face value, a viewer would think that pedestrians, cyclists and motorists are equally responsible for city traffic collisions. But DOT’s own statistics indicate that driver actions are the primary cause in 78.5 percent of serious pedestrian crashes. Moreover, more pedestrians are struck by drivers while crossing with a traffic signal than while walking against a light.

Data on collisions involving cyclists and pedestrians have been made available only recently, but according to NYPD reports compiled by DOT, police responded to 27 bike-ped collisions citywide in the last three months of 2011, with crashes resulting in 26 injuries. During the same period, 754 car-bike collisions injured 755 cyclists and killed three. The most recent figures from the state DMV show that more than 2,600 city pedestrians are injured by motorists in a typical three-month period, and 50 are killed. A public service campaign targeting the actual causes of traffic crashes would focus almost exclusively on motorist behavior.

Finally, of the three street users admonished by Davis, only the driver and the cyclist are violating traffic laws. By (again) attaching its “Know the Code, Share the Road” slogan to images of an earbud-wearing or texting pedestrian, DOT is sending the message that people are responsible for their own injuries and deaths if they are struck by drivers as they cross the street while using an electronic device — an act that is completely legal in New York State.

This is the type of street safety PSA that Carl Kruger would love.

  • J

    With blame-the-victim campaigns like this, it’s no surprise that NYPD continues to proclaim “no criminality suspected” when pedestrians are hit by cars.

  • Media Critic

    The DOT seems very afraid of telling drivers in plain and simple language, “Stop killing people.”

  • Benjamin kintisch

    Is it still too politically risky to do a psa telling drivers to drive safely so they don’t kill anyone?

  • Robert

    Sorry, I have to disagree with you here.  Telling people that they need to be alert when crossing the street is not the same as blaming them  for getting into accidents.  As a bike rider, I’m amazed at the number of pedestrians who stroll into the street without ever realizing where they are.  

  • J

    @5416db5a166bcb8045f0c369ebd62201:disqus Sorry, but pedestrians are not the ones creating the danger. This is just another example of the sacred bull in society’s china shop, as described excellently by Mikael Colville-Andersen. We tell people, “watch out for the bull that’s destroying everything”, while completely ignoring the fact that it’s the bull that needs to be tamed cause it’s surrounded by fragile things, such as humans.http://www.copenhagenize.com/2009/10/sacred-bull-in-societys-china-shop.html

  • Anonymous

    While I understand the “let’s not blame the victim” sentiment, I think DOT is doing good if it encourages “defensive walking” even if “stupid walking” is not illegal. Lives could be saved if everyone walked defensively. Yes, if everyone drove perfectly then it wouldn’t matter, and yes, it is still the driver’s fault when he/she kills someone, but let’s be realistic. It’s called “defense in depth”: to maximize safety, you try to reduce risk redundantly from several different angles.

  • Anonymous

    This is not the “Don’t be a Jerk” campaign revisited.  I don’t see this as victim blaming, I see this as telling people to pay attention to what you’re doing.  I think absolutely that we need more campaigns telling motorists not to kill people, but I don’t see it as a bad thing to tell pedestrians and cyclists to pay more attention to their surroundings.  

  • carma

    yes, cars cause the most accidents, but do you expect all peds/cyclists to be perfect?  thats why you need to PAY ATTENTION even if you not at fault.  its called due diligence.
    i hope baron davis rested up his injury before doing this ad.

  • The video shows the pedestrian oblivious to a flashing “don’t walk” in the second shot. Maybe this isn’t a violation of law, but it’s certainly one of common sense.

  • krstrois

    To me this is really about allocation of DOT resources — not whether or not it’s stupid to cross the street without looking (even if you have the right of way). I think everyone can agree that this is unwise. I’d rather see DOT using their budget for something, well, more useful.  

    Protection from human error is not currently built into our environment. Accountability for those people who kill people with cars is not currently built into our legal system. I understand that these deficits result in campaigns such as these. What the hell else are they supposed to do? They have no support from the NYPD, no support from the press. No support from drivers (everyone). So they’re like hey, you, walking person: Don’t die!  

    It’s a nightmare. Truly. 

  • Max Power

    The message about “distracted walking” is undermined a bit by Davis dribbling while crossing, don’cha think?

  • Anonymous

    Would you prefer then that we go ahead and pass laws to make it illegal to text or use electronic devices while walking? That is next. I guarantee you. Telling people to pay attention in an ad is much tamer.

  • Those of us that live in LA know that Baron Davis could never hit that many people in the chest with a pass.

  • J

    The pedestrian in the video is doing absolutely nothing wrong. He is crossing with the light and violating zero traffic laws. He is walking in a city where he feels comfortable enough to not need to pay attention every second of his journey. He is in a part of the city that has been heavily traffic calmed as a response to large numbers of pedestrians being struck. This traffic calming has worked wonders, and traffic injuries and deaths are way down. I would guarantee that the traffic calming did way more to reduce ped crashes than any advertisement ever will, and that is where our money should go.

    I do appreciate telling drivers to pay attention, and cyclist to go the right way. However, the typical response from an NYC driver would be “f*ck you” or “shut the f*ck up”, and certainly not “thanks!” with a cheery smile. Something tells me a ticket blitz is much more effective way to actually change behavior than this ad. 

  • Ian Turner

    @MacsAre1:disqus : To me, this type of messaging paves the way for legislation. At least, that’s my understanding of how it worked with jaywalking back in the day.

  • Anonymous

    Pleas note that Baron Davis hit the pedestrian with the ball , but not the bicyclist or the car driver.. What kind of message is that??   Oh Yeah the same a usual , it is OK to hit pedestrians….  Disgusting … 

  • Basically what I took away from this is that cars are a problem. So maybe instead of spending money on ads talking about how cars are dangerous, we should just get rid of the cars. 


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