If it Walks Like a Duck: NMA E-Newsletter #341

Summer is the time when communities across the country conduct their annual crosswalk sting operations in which undercover police officers walk out into busy intersections hoping they won’t get run over. The purpose is to ticket passing drivers who fail to yield to, or stop for, the “pedestrian” in the crosswalk.

Locally, the unlucky undercover officers are nicknamed ducks, and we have to wonder about the mindset of those who willingly put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of a $145 ticket. Do they believe the crosswalk markings have some magical power to keep them from getting hit? Incidentally, one officer was struck and injured while he was crossing a downtown street, although he was off-duty at the time. Even so, he continued on duck duty after the accident. Must be some pretty powerful mojo.

And this isn’t the only example of pedestrians attributing protective powers to the constructs of traffic safety. Take the orange flag phenomenon. Some busy intersections around here come equipped with a supply of bright orange construction flags that pedestrians wave to signal their intent to cross. Many simply grab the flag and charge into the street, expecting traffic to respond appropriately. We’ve seen many near misses, and the flag wavers invariably seem puzzled that they nearly got killed walking into the middle of a busy street.

We don’t mean to minimize the importance of pedestrian safety and the role driver awareness plays in it. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), pedestrians account for about 14 percent of all traffic fatalities nationwide, totaling 4,735 in 2013. NHTSA’s vast fatality database can reveal who is most likely to be hit, where they’re most likely to be hit, and even what hour of the day and what day of the week they’re most likely to be hit. The one thing it can’t tell us is why.

The Vision Zero types would have us believe that careless drivers cause most car/pedestrian accidents, but there’s a lot of research to suggest that pedestrian behavior is a primary factor in many traffic accidents. Here are a few examples.

A 2010 North Carolina study found that pedestrians were at fault in 59 percent of crashes, drivers in 32 percent and both in nine percent. The study concluded that pedestrians

… must apply greater caution when crossing streets, waiting to cross, and when walking along roads, as these are correlated with pedestrians being found at fault. The results suggest a need for campaigns focused on positively affecting pedestrian street-crossing behavior in combination with added jaywalking enforcement. … Intoxication is a concern and the results show that it is not only driver intoxication that is affecting safety, but also pedestrian intoxication.

A 2005 study analyzing car/pedestrian crashes in Baltimore noted that

… a large number of all crashes may be attributed to improper pedestrian behavior. Preusser et al (2002) found that in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore area 50% of pedestrians involved in pedestrian vehicular crashes are judged culpable in the crash. Some pedestrian crashes can be associated with risk-taking behavior such as alcohol consumption, mid-block crossing, and crossing under unsafe conditions such as low visibility or high vehicular volume.

And this from a 2000 Florida study that analyzed the causes of pedestrian accidents:

Some form of pedestrian behavior was the primary contributing factor in over three-fourths of the pedestrian crashes reviewed. Alcohol use, by either the pedestrian or driver, was determined as the primary factor in 45% of cases. Where alcohol use was determinable, 69% of pedestrians crossing not in crosswalks were under the influence.

We’re sensing a pattern here.

Undoubtedly motorists are responsible for many pedestrian accidents. But pedestrians must also assume responsibility for their own safety. Of course, the Vision Zero folks go nuts when they hear this. Streetsblog NYC erupted in anger after the New York City police commissioner stated that 66 percent of pedestrian injuries “are directly related to the actions of pedestrians,” and that police would begin targeting jaywalkers. They whined about punishing pedestrians, stating that the best way to promote pedestrian safety was to not hold pedestrians at fault at all. Seriously.

With this kind of attitude, it’s no wonder so many pedestrians are sitting, or walking, ducks.

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