Just a year ago, we had the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons comparing distracted walking to drunk driving, that it is not even safe to walk and talk to your kid at the same time. It was a year of blaming distracted walkers for just about everything that happens in the roads. Across North America, politicians are talking about bans, using questionable statistics that claim that 80 percent of crashes are the pedestrian's fault.
In Canada at least, there appears to be some pushback. The Globe and Mail, self-described as Canada's National Newspaper, recently ran a strong editorial saying Pedestrians have rights too. Now Michael Enright, host of the popular CBC show Sunday Morning, does a riff on the subject. He gets all the important points:
When stories broke about the disturbing number of pedestrians killed and injured, motorists on talk shows and in letter campaigns tried to lay the blame for the fatalities on the pedestrians themselves. As in many corners of modern life, there is an early reflex to blame the victim. Drivers say they can't deal with jay-walking pedestrians, young people often reading their phones or listening to earbuds as they cross a busy street.
Except the argument does not hold up. In a U.S. study of 23,240 pedestrian fatalities between 2010 and 2014, portable electronic devices were a factor in 25 cases. In most collisions, speed and inattention by drivers caused the deaths. In fact it is the distracted motorist in Ontario who has become as much a menace as the drunk driver.
Enright particularly blames those in fancy cars like Lexi or Audis, which has actually been proven in studies. He also notes that much of the problem is the way our cities are designed, and how we pander to the drivers.
A major part of the problem is the way our cityscapes are laid out. We have given our cities over, to the car. People and cars trying to occupy the same space at the same time at a busy intersection can cause tragedy. A suggested solution is the so-called pedestrian scramble or Barnes Dance, named after the traffic expert who invented it, where at one point all vehicular traffic is stopped in all directions and pedestrians cross every which way. It was tried in one downtown Toronto intersection, but drivers complained they had to wait an extra minute or so before starting up; it was cancelled at that particular intersection.
He then notes that the single best thing that could be done is to drop the speed limits to 20 MPH, because studies show that a) fewer people get hit and b) those that do usually survive.
Good reading and listening at The Sunday Edition.
It was a good weekend for Canadian radio about this subject. On Spark, Nora Young discusses distracted driving with Debbie Hersman, the CEO of the US National Safety Council, and a three-term chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board. She thinks that hands-free devices are not effective.
"If it were an issue of your hands, we'd have banned the stick shift years ago," she says. Rather, she says, it's cognitive overload: all the work your brain has to do while you're supposed to be focused on driving.
Listen to it all at Spark.