The Blame Game

Today on the Network, Ohio member blog Xing Columbus questions a recent article in The Columbus Dispatch
that attributes Franklin County pedestrian fatalities to carelessness
on the part of the victim. According to a Columbus police officer
interviewed in the story, local people killed by cars are usually
jaywalking or "just walking in the road" — where "you might not see a
person until you’re right on top of them."

ohioped.jpgPhoto: Columbus Dispatch

Even if all the statements are true, I didn’t like the tone of the
article. It seemed like pedestrians were being blamed for their own
deaths. One might think that the driver of a vehicle capable of
killing someone might be held responsible for hitting people in the
roadway at least some of the time.

Xing
Columbus wonders if local police have data to back up their claims, as
none was cited in the article. An August 13 editorial in the Sacramento Bee,
however, points to a study from the UC Berkeley Traffic Safety Center
showing that "more than 80 percent of crosswalk collisions are related
to driver behavior."

So some skepticism is in order when drivers say, "the pedestrian ran
(darted, dashed) in front of me" or "came out of nowhere" — especially
when the pedestrian is unconscious (or dead), and there are no
witnesses at the scene.

Regardless
of statistics, the prevailing sentiment seems to be that, by inserting
themselves into the domain of cars and drivers, pedestrians and
cyclists are asking for it.

Not that further proof is needed, but if you really want to get worked up, have a look at the comments on a weekend pedestrian fatality in Athens, Georgia. As friends of the victim expressed their condolences to his family, one Athens Banner-Herald reader wrote:

Why
is it that everyone can show sympathy to the person who caused the
accident but no one seems concerned with the real victim in all of this
— the driver who had to watch someone basically commit suicide on the
front bumper of his vehicle? My heart goes out to that driver. That
must have been a horrible situation to be forced into.

Also today: Streetsblog San Francisco reports that the looming BART strike was averted over the weekend; The Wash Cycle has an update on what was once called "The Stupidest Bike Lane in America"; and Bike Portland marks another successful Sunday Parkways event.

  • When someone tries to cross railroad tracks and gets hit there is a subset of people who give their condolences to railroad workers who have to deal with that sort of thing all the time.

  • Cathy

    It’s interesting that in determining auto insurance payouts for car vs car crashes, there is a concept of partial liability. That is, if one car is trying to cross an unmarked intersection and another is speeding down the street, they each share some liability. This doesn’t seem to apply when it is car vs pedestrian. You might think that as a driver approached a crosswalk, or took a blind turn very close to the edge of a road with no sidewalk, that he would slow for the possibility of a pedestrian, but you would be wrong. Pedestrians include the elderly, disabled, children with maybe poor judgement and maybe they are jaywalking or can’t cross an intersection in the required time. Doesn’t matter. Guilty. Death penalty for a misdemeanor.

  • jj

    Spokker, Im unsure what you’re implying.

    Are you saying the train is to blame?

    Unlike streets, which are EVERYWHERE, there are very few rail lines in any city. Unlike roads, theyre not meant to be shared, theyre designed exclusively for trains. As such, its not much to expect that pedestrians, bikes and cars take caution when crossing them. Theyre big and noisy too.

    Also, even if you were to demand all trains opperate no faster than 10mph…it still can’t stop in time to prevent an accident, unlike a car.

  • This blog post correctly points out that 80 percent of crosswalk collisions are caused by driver behavior, but then it includes an article from Athens, GA where a man may have jaywalked across a highway. That doesn’t compute. Cathy’s “Death penalty for a misdemeanor” is needlessly maudlin.

    What about this article, where a drunken pedestrian was nearly hit by a taxi? http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/081609/cop_482158391.shtml

    Death penalty for public intoxication? No, more like a lack of personal responsiblity. Would you blame the taxi driver if the man had been hit?

  • While we’re talking about it, here’s what the California Drivers handbook says.

    http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/hdbk/misc_info.htm

    “Pedestrian Responsibilities*

    Yield the right-of-way to vehicles when you:

    Cross or walk where intersections or crosswalks are not marked.
    “Jaywalk” across a street between intersections, where no pedestrian crosswalks are provided.
    *Joggers must obey pedestrian rules.

    Remember: Making eye contact with the driver does not mean that the driver will see you or yield the right-of-way.

    Do not suddenly leave a curb or other safe place and walk or run into the path of a vehicle close enough to be a danger to you. This is true even though you are in a crosswalk. The law states that drivers must take care for the safety of any pedestrian—but if the driver can’t stop in time to avoid hitting you, the law won’t help you.”

    Is it wrong? Should it be changed?

  • Are pedestrians sometimes careless, irresponsible, or simply incapable of crossing safely? Certainly. But it’s important to remember that regardless of who is at fault, in an “encounter” between a car and a pedestrian, the pedestrian almost inevitably gets the raw end of the deal.

    That’s why right after it warns pedestrians to yield the right-of-way, the CA Vehicle Code includes a clause explaining that “this section shall not relieve the driver of a vehicle from the duty to exercise due care for the safety of any pedestrian upon a roadway.”

    We could debate whether or not to change this language…or we could just work on improving roadway design so it more safely accomodated pedestrians.

  • “That’s why right after it warns pedestrians to yield the right-of-way, the CA Vehicle Code includes a clause explaining that “this section shall not relieve the driver of a vehicle from the duty to exercise due care for the safety of any pedestrian upon a roadway.””

    This is why myself and nearly every other driver on the road slows down when there is a jaywalker in the street. Very few drivers *want* to hit anyone.

    “We could debate whether or not to change this language…or we could just work on improving roadway design so it more safely accomodated pedestrians.”

    I agree, but when it comes to the blame game, this is how I see it.

    Hit and run in a crosswalk? I’m right there with you in your outrage. Guy, not speeding or drinking, hits some poor bastard jaywalking and stops to render aid? I’m going to sit that one out.

  • Here are the pedestrian safety stats from 2007 from the NHTSA: http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/portal/nhtsa_static_file_downloader.jsp?file=/staticfiles/DOT/NHTSA/NCSA/Content/TSF/2007/810994.pdf

    “Most pedestrian fatalities in 2007 occurred in urban areas (73%), at non-intersection locations (77%), in normal weather conditions (90%), and at night (67%).

    Most pedestrian fatalities in 2007 occurred in urban areas (73%), at non-intersection locations (77%), in normal weather conditions (90%), and at night (67%).”

    It would appear that you can significantly reduce your risk of being hit by a car by not drunkenly jaywalking at night.

  • Forgot to paste this: “Of the pedestrians involved, 35 percent had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher. Of the drivers involved in fatal crashes, only 14 percent had a BAC of .08 g/dL or higher, less than one-half the rate for the pedestrians. In 6 percent of the crashes, both the driver and the pedestrian had a BAC of .08 g/dL or higher.”

  • Yes, I would certainly expect most fatalities to occur in urban areas (which have the most walkers), between intersections (which have the least pedestrian protection), in normal weather (when most people are out walking), and at night (dangerous for both drivers and walkers, in part because that’s when the most drinking happens).

    Still, I do think that over the past 90 years or so street design has disproportionately favored the automobile over pedestrians (let’s not forget that jaywalking was not always a crime–or even a concept that people recognized).

    But I don’t want to place undue blame on drivers. When you design a local street to comfortably accomodate speeds of 40 or 45 mph, for example, it seems a bit silly to criticize drivers who race through residential neighborhoods. My point is merely that a true solution would be to create streets that helped both drivers and pedestrians avoid crashes.

  • Brad Aaron

    Nowhere in the story does it say the pedestrian was “jaywalking” or intoxicated. Maybe he was, but to make such assumptions without evidence only proves the point of this post.

    Nor do we know how fast the driver was going, whether s/he was on a cell phone, etc. — only that s/he “was not drinking.”

    Having lived in Athens myself, I do know that Lexington Road is surrounded by shopping, neighborhoods, schools, and parks. To be sure, like many quasi-suburban Athens thoroughfares, it is inhospitable to pedestrians, thanks to local officials who continue to ignore pleas for improvements. But it is not at all unusual for people to walk in this area.

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