Florida's official culture of driving blames pedestrians (and cellphones) for "vast majority" of deaths

standing on sidewalk
Screen capture This kid is standing on the sidewalk when hit, but it's the cellphone's fault.

It would seem pretty obvious to anyone who has been to Florida that it is full of older pedestrians and older drivers, all trying to navigate six lane roads. Marsha Jenakovich of the Alliance for Aging tells the Miami Herald:

In Florida we’ve always had this culture of driving. We built these sprawling cities with lots of broad avenues for speeding traffic and not much thought for pedestrians. We have to rethink the way we do things.

But the most remarkable thing is how this culture of driving has permeated the official Florida. We covered the story recently about Celebration, Florida, which actually did rethink the way they do things; now the Fire Chief wants to rip it all out so that his fire trucks can speed down a twenty foot road.

top tenDangerous by Design/ 8 of the top 10 deadliest cities are in Florida/via

In a CityLab article, Why Does Florida Have America's Most Lethal Roads? Trenda McPherson, the bicycle/pedestrian safety program manager at the Florida Department of Transportation’s Traffic Safety Office, pretty much blames the pedestrians.

McPherson says the average age of pedestrians struck and killed by cars is 50, and that one of the leading causes of their deaths is their own unsafe behavior, like crossing streets in the middle of traffic. “These aren’t little kids who haven’t learned to look both ways,” she says. “It’s adults. We need to help shift their mentality. Like, why not walk an extra block to the crosswalk?”

In the Orlando Sentinel article titled Pedestrian deaths up in Central Florida, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Steven Montiero also blames the pedestrians.

Pedestrians are at fault for a vast majority of the accidents, Montiero said. Many aren’t in a crosswalk or are crossing the street in dark clothing at night, Montiero said.

Some aren’t following common-sense lessons, such as looking both ways before stepping into the street, Montiero said. “We need pedestrians to really start following the law," Montiero said. “Just because you get older doesn’t mean you don’t follow that rule. I would check one more time. A small mistake is getting people killed.”

But perhaps the most breathtaking example of this culture of driving is in this item on the Today Show just this morning. In it they claim that “Smartphones may be to blame for spike in pedestrian deaths.” They claim Orlando is the most dangerous city, using information from the Governors Highway Safety Association, and then blame cell phones for the increase.


Then, while talking about phones, they show a video of a man being struck by a car while standing on the sidewalk (and not carrying a phone).

They follow this up with the story of a woman crossing the street with the green light in a crosswalk, and gets hit by a pickup truck. But the NBC’s Kelly Sanders then says “one of the biggest problems now is the increase in smart phone use.” Except there is not much evidence of this, and even Kelly Sanders notes that New York City, where everybody is looking at their phones, has a much lower rate of pedestrian death because there are so many people in the streets and the cars travel more slowly.

pedestrian deaths risingGHSA/Public Domain

It should also be noted that even the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), in its report, suggests that there might be a correlation between traffic deaths and cellphone use, saying “a more recent factor contributing to the increase in pedestrian fatalities may be the growing use of smart phones by all road users, which can be a significant source of distraction for both drivers and pedestrians.” But they never blame the pedestrians in particular, and it is way down the list after “economic conditions, demographics, weather, fuel prices, and the amount of motor vehicle travel and time people spend walking.” It is really just an aside. And this is an organization with a through-the-windshield view of the world “representing the state and territorial highway safety offices” and supported by a whole bunch of car-dependent orgs. We covered their reports before on TreeHugger and they have not changed their views on smart phones.

In fact, according to Oliver Moore in the Globe and Mail,

Research in the United States found that pedestrians' use of an electronic device was a factor in only 0.1 per cent of people killed while walking over five years. The increase in larger vehicles such as SUVs, which sit higher and are more likely to kill when someone is struck, may be partly to blame. And an aging population is more fragile and tends to suffer greater damage if hit. In Toronto this year, 67 per cent of the pedestrians who were killed were over 65.

deaths by group© Smart Growth America

According to the Dangerous by Design 2016 report, “Native Americans and African Americans, as well as adults 65 years and older, are all at much higher risk of being struck and killed by a car while walking than people in other demographics.” Old people and poor people are taking the brunt of this.

But it is much more entertaining to blame the kids looking at their smart phones when you are listening to the radio in your pickup going down the six lane road.

Tags: Car-Free | Cell Phones | Florida

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