Do statistics really show that 80 percent of pedestrian crashes are their own fault?

In every discussion about pedestrian safety, whether it is about dressing in bright clothes or not wearing headphones, the words “blaming the victim” come up and many respond “why not? Statistics show that it is usually the victim’s fault.” Many point back to these numbers that keep coming up, quoted here from the Center for Problem—Oriented Policing:

Unsafe pedestrian behavior is a major factor in pedestrian injuries and fatalities. In a recent study of 7,000 pedestrian-vehicle crashes in Florida, researchers discovered that pedestrians were at fault in 80 percent of these incidents. Similarly, in a U.K. study, pedestrian behavior accounted for 90 percent of crashes where vehicle struck a pedestrian.

I have looked at this before, but have been trying to dig deeper. Going into the footnotes, the source of the first statistic is the paywalled study Comprehensive analysis of vehicle pedestrian crashes at intersections in Florida by Chris Lee and Mohamed Abdel-Aty, published in 2005. The relevant section:

In this study if the drivers who were involved in pedestrian crashes were cited for moving violations the crashes were classified as crashes at drivers fault. Otherwise the crashes were classified as at pedestrians fault. The data show that the percentage of crashes at at pedestrians fault is substantially higher (80%) than the percentage of crashes at drivers fault. (20%)

Now you just have to read Streetsblog for a few minutes to learn that drivers are rarely charged when they hit someone. They just say “I didn’t see him, he just popped out of nowhere”. Unless they are drunk, they usually are let go unless it is totally egregious. The driver just says “It was an accident” and that is the end of it. The statistic clearly doesn’t represent the reality, And clearly, from reading the rest of the study and its conclusions, the authors didn’t make a big deal of it either, they never mention again. In their conclusions and recommendations, at worst they suggest that pedestrians shouldn’t drink and walk, but that is about it; no blaming the pedestrians but pretty even-handed. They also note that a lot more research on pedestrian crashes should be done.

conclusions in studyComprehensive analysis of vehicle–pedestrian crashes at intersections in Florida/Screen capture

Now the second study quoted by the Police, where “pedestrian behavior accounted for 90 percent of crashes where vehicle struck a pedestrian.”- that is far more interesting and can be read by anyone here. It is from 1993 and actually has a pretty shocking title “Pedestrian accidents on Merseyside: the case for criminalization of jaywalking”

merseysideThe case for criminalization of jaywalking/Screen capture

as far as the causes of the accidents,

The cause of the accident as recorded by the investigating police officer was due to pedestrian behaviour 90 percent of the time. The remainder were due to driver action; three cases of failure to stop at a pedestrian crossing, and one each of driving at excessive speed, reversing negligently, improper overtaking and driving while physically ill or fatigued.

What the pedestrians were apparently doing that was considered their fault:

56 percent were crossing from the driver’s nearside, 38 percent were crossing from the offside, the remainder were either standing or walking in the carriageway.

In other words, just crossing the street or being in the road put them at fault. Only if the drivers were doing something egregious was it their fault. The authors conclusion to solve this problem:

Physical separation of pedestrians and vehicles, accomplished by provision of pedestrian crossings, fencing and designated pedestrian walkways, eliminates the need for pedestrian action in accident prevention. Legislation to control pedestrian behaviour may be appropriate.

Hence the title: The case for the criminalization of jaywalking.

I think it is fair to say that in the first study, the statistic is not really valid and is being blown out of proportion, and the second study treats anyone who is in the road as responsible, unless the driver was going backward while drunk. Certainly they are not substantive reasons to blame the pedestrian. They are certainly not strong enough to keep being recycled, and really, the English one is 23 years old.

So why is this all happening? Justin Jones puts it nicely:

Asking people walking to remove their earphones ignores the fact that even with earphones in, you still hear more than a person in a car with their windows up. Asking people to wear bright, reflective clothing ignores the fact that if a person driving can’t see a large object “until it’s too late”, then they’re arguably driving too fast for the light conditions or their own abilities. Asking people to cross at crosswalks ignores the fact that there are many “signal crossing deserts” in modern urban environments, where safe crosswalks may be separated by a kilometer or more. All of these asks serve the same purpose – to absolve those driving and those who design the systems where rapid movement of cars are prioritized, of their responsibility to plan for the more vulnerable.

Read the rest of his post “Shared Responsibility” messaging ignores our Basic Human Responsibilities – to look out for the more vulnerable among us.

Tags: Cities | Urban Life | Urban Planning | Walking

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