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Stop Blaming Walkers for Pedestrian Accidents

This past weekend was particularly violent, not because of criminal activity but because of three fatal pedestrian accidents and one bicycle crash on New York City streets. And there were elements of the surreal as well, as police bloodied an 84-year-old man on the Upper West Side when he walked away from them after being stopped for jaywalking. Apparently the man did not speak English and was unable to understand officers’ commands.

The police commissioner has been quoted as saying that 66 percent of all pedestrian accidents are the fault of the pedestrian. However, it is not known where he obtained that statistic, and his statement seems to be at odds with the facts. Moreover, it has never been demonstrated that blaming pedestrians for accidents and issuing tickets and citations has ever had any impact on the rates of traffic injuries and deaths.

In a recent Streetsblog post, the writer points out that in places where drivers of motor vehicles have strict liability, the rates of pedestrian accidents are much lower. When they know they will be blamed for any accident involving a pedestrian – even if that pedestrian acted illegally by jaywalking – they tend to do everything possible to avoid traffic accidents. In the Netherlands, for example, pedestrians injured or killed in traffic accidents are never held liable, even if they disobeyed traffic laws.

Moreover, jaywalking is not necessarily a predictor of pedestrian accidents. More people are injured or killed in New York City when they cross with the signal using the crosswalk than when they cross mid-block or against the light. Drivers do not yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk or are going to fast for conditions and cannot slow or stop in time.

In short, says the Streetsblog writer, jaywalking is not what kills pedestrians. Rather, failure to yield, speeding and driving distracted are the biggest causes of serious injury and death among pedestrians.

Source: Streetsblog, “Bratton’s Pedestrian Ticket Blitz Won’t Save Lives,” Jan. 20, 2014.