Stop Blaming the Victim for the Increase in Pedestrian Deaths


Mom died, baby survived.

In Toronto, they are calling it the "War on Pedestrians"; 14 have been killed since the start of the year, compared to 32 in all of 2009. In New York City, the mayor is proud that overall traffic fatalities are the lowest in a century, but the number of pedestrians killed was up, to 155. In Portland, Oregon, Jonathan Maus writes that "A spike in traffic collisions over the weekend highlights the urgent need for traffic safety improvements across the Portland area." In Florida, 502 pedestrians were killed last year, one tenth of the entire country's pedestrian deaths. 7,878 were injured.

And what is the almost universal response? BLAME THE PEDESTRIAN!

Some pedestrian death rates are dropping; kids used to be the biggest cohort but they don't walk to school.

It should be no surprise that the death rate is almost exponentially related to the speed which the car is going. Speed is also a factor in the accident rate as well as the survivability; According to Pedsafe, "A pedestrian hit at 64.4 km/h (40 mi/h) has an 85 percent chance of being killed; at 48.3 km/h (30 mi/h), the likelihood goes down to 45 percent, while at 32.2 km/h (20 mi/h), the fatality rate is only 5 percent. Faster speeds increase the likelihood of a pedestrian being hit. At higher speeds, motorists are less likely to see a pedestrian, and are even less likely to be able to stop in time to avoid hitting one."

It is also no surprise that Seniors fare worse in accidents. According to Pedsafe, the percentage of pedestrian crashes resulting in death exceeds 20 percent for pedestrians over age 75, compared to less than 8 percent for pedestrians under age 14.

A few years ago in Portland, they started an education campaign to remind drivers of the rules. Jonathan Mau noted that studies showed that " 72% of pedestrian collisions are a result of driver error and that citywide, 49% of pedestrian injuries happen in a crosswalk."

They are also aggravating drivers by reducing speed limits in dangerous locations and actually trying to enforce it.

Yet in the letters and comments from Portland to New York, from Florida to Toronto, there is universal blame placed on the pedestrian, for talking on the phone, jaywalking, wearing black in winter when it is dark early, even for just being out because it is warmer than usual! But Chris Hume of the Star in Toronto politely calls this nonsense.

The truth is that for the past 60 years we have been building cities for cars, not people. The width of streets, speed limits, as well as the size and design of cars themselves are all carefully calibrated to suit drivers. We have so much invested in the vehicle, and it's assumed that traffic flow and congestion are symptomatic of general economic health.

But how healthy is a society willing to risk the lives of its citizens - particularly seniors - so drivers can get to work without being inconvenienced?

In Toronto, the bulk of the deaths come in suburbia; wide streets, big apartment buildings, high speed limits and lots of people pushing baby carriages to the store. And what do the Toronto police say to the Globe and Mail?


"Everything that distracts a driver, it has the potential of distracting the pedestrian. But the difference is drivers, if they run into a wall or if they run into another car, they've got 3,000 pounds of metal that protects them. Pedestrians, when you walk into a path of something, if it's bigger and heavier it's going to hurt," said Sergeant Tim Burrows of Toronto Police Service's traffic division.

He notes the causes of many deaths of pedestrians: Music and cellphones.

"You get so engrossed in everything that is a convenience or the technology favourites and darlings of the day, you forget about the only thing that keeps you alive. That's paying attention and common sense,"

Having a conversation.
"They don't look and catch the queues around them that say whether it's safe or not safe,"


Lack of "proper paranoia"

"There is a sense of entitlement and stupidity mixed together, because any time a pedestrian thinks they're going to outwit or outrun a motor vehicle, they're usually wrong,"

The weather. The nerve of the pedestrians, being out there walking in our warm, snowless January and and taking up space. And "dressing like Kenny from South Park" restricts your peripheral vision.

It's a design problem, not a pedestrian problem

I am sorry, Sgt. Burrows, it goes deeper than that. The way to stop pedestrians from being killed is to design the city better. Architectural critic Chris Hume notes:

The easiest way to reduce the number of pedestrians killed by cars would be to limit speed limits, narrow streets and install lights and stop signs at corners.

And, for drivers to learn to coexist:

Drivers, long accustomed to having the roads to themselves, will need to learn to share them. As the growing death toll proves, however, this won't be easy. Before drivers learn new ways, they must unlearn the old. The transition will take a generation or two. Eventually, though, the time will come when people look back at current driving practices in much the same way we look back at smoking in the 1950s.

In the short term, how about some slower speed limits, greater enforcement, more red light cameras and a little less blame on the pedestrian; they are the ones who don't get to walk away.

Tags: Cities | Urban Life

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