Whenever I describe campaigns aimed at getting pedestrians to dress in high-viz or put down their phones as "blaming the victim" (as I have now three days running, previously here and here) the comments are pretty consistent: "where is the logic that says we can't blame the victim? Sometimes it's the victim's fault." It's not just here either; Alissa Walker recently picked up on campaign run by Toronto's transit service, Toronto Tells Pedestrians to Fix Their Clothes Instead of Fixing Its Streets and is just deluged in them. We covered the same campaign in September and we were deluged in them too.
Now I suppose we cyclists and pedestrians should be pleased that the people paying for all this, who run the transit system in this campaign or the people who make cars in this one are paying so much attention to our safety. But are they looking after their own interests or ours?
The campaign, which is thankfully winding down, is in the news (and Gizmodo) again and this time, Neville Park of Torontoist has modified them to reflect the real story: that 67 percent of pedestrian-vehicle collisions are attributed to driver error. That only 13 percent of pedestrians were distracted at the time of collisions. Or as lawyer Patrick Brown noted in Metro News,
If you look at all the statistics, the number one problem is driver action. So, to turn around and point the finger at somebody’s choice of clothing suggests you don’t understand what’s really going on out there.
Brown also notes that when he is in court, defending pedestrians and cyclists who have been hit, it has become part of the defence.
They fight diligently in court to prove it was the pedestrian or cyclist’s fault. The first thing they want to know is what colour of clothes were you wearing… but in most cases it’s not warranted.
Yes we agree, people should not be looking at their phones while they cross the street. Yes, it is easier for drivers to see pedestrians if they are wearing hi-viz. But again, the statistics clearly demonstrate that this is not the cause of most crashes. And history shows that when the automobile industry or the guys who run the buses and the streetcars are paying for the campaigns, that there is another agenda at play- shifting responsibility from the driver, manufacturing an excuse, and yes, blaming the victim.
They want to make it very clear that if we dare step into their space, the road, then we better be on the defensive, moving out of their way as quickly as possible, alert, dressed in hi-viz and carrying a flashlight or we deserve what we get.
Really, we can talk about electric cars and solar panels until we are blue in the face, but the single best way we have to improve our cities, make our citizens healthier and cut down our carbon footprint is to get people out of cars, get them walking and on to bikes wherever possible. That's not going to happen if they keep running these silly campaigns to scare people off the streets and sidewalks.