Yet Another Study Confirms That Drivers of Expensive Cars Are More Likely to Ignore Pedestrians

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Mercedes do crosswalks

Nevada study finds that every thousand bucks of added value decreases the odds of yielding to pedestrians by three percent.

We have noted studies that confirm BMW and Audi owners drive like idiots and that the rich are different from you and me, especially behind the wheel. Now a new study from researchers at the University of Nevada finds that car cost is a predictor of driver behaviour.

The study, Estimated car cost as a predictor of driver yielding behaviors for pedestrians, had one black and one white female and male take their lives into their hands crossing at a typical Las Vegas intersection.

Barely a quarter of the cars yielded for pedestrians. They stopped more often for females and whites compared to males and non-whites. The researchers picked mid-block pedestrian crossings within a mile of a school, chosen "in an attempt to improve the likelihood that local drivers would be accustomed to the presence of pedestrians in that particular location." The research participants survived the experiment because they didn't step off the curb unless they were certain that the car was going to yield.

The cars were filmed and the cost of the car was estimated using the Kelly Blue Book. The researchers found that while sex and race did make a difference, the biggest factor was the value of the car.

Only the cost of the car was a significant predictor of driver yielding, meaning that the odds of yielding decreased around 3 percent when the car cost increased by one thousand dollars.

They try to suss out the reasons for this and, in the end, fall back on other research we have discussed that concluded, “Higher social-class standing was positively associated with increased feelings of entitlement and narcissism.” They also note:

Drivers of higher cost cars may have been less accustomed to and ill prepared to yield for pedestrians, as higher SES [socio-economic status] is associated with lower rates of active transportation. However, the roads were relatively low speed at 35mph and the researchers made their intent to cross obvious with more than enough time for drivers who were paying attention to stop. Even if it was the case that the drivers who failed to yield did so because they failed to anticipate a crosswalk or the presence of pedestrians, it does not bode well for pedestrian safety, as the Las Vegas metropolitan area has numerous midblock crosswalks.

The study authors note that the road design is a problem.

The urban design is very characteristic of sprawl including auto-dominated development with separated land uses, such as residential areas separated from retail or entertainment districts, numerous high speed arterial streets with large block distances.

The mid block crosswalks were added "in an effort to facilitate non-intersection crossings." Writing in Streetsblog, Kea Wilson picks up on this issue of road design.

Even in the so-called “ideal” road conditions of the Vegas study, researchers noted that pedestrians had to walk across four vehicle lanes — and Nevada law requires each of those lanes to be at least 12 feet wide. Safe streets advocates have long argued that a 10-foot lane is vastly safer for pedestrians, because drivers tend to go faster the wider the travel lane is, and faster driving speeds = more dead walkers. By designing wide roads with wide lanes and way more space for cars than people, engineers send a subconscious message to drivers that it’s okay to go fast — and that folks on foot should get out of their way.
CC BY 2.0. How to park a BMW/ Lloyd Alter

How to park a BMW/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

But driver entitlement isn't limited to the suburbs; I see it every day while walking or biking in the city. It's not just on wide roads, it's everywhere. And as the cars morph into SUVs and pickup trucks, it seems that the drivers are even more detached from their surroundings, and as we noted recently, the deaths of people walking and cycling just keep going up.

That's why it's time for true Vision Zero, making SUVs as safe as cars, cameras on every crosswalk and maybe even Intelligent Speed Assistance. Enough already.