Pedestrians must be Accountable for their own Safety: NMA E-Newsletter #342

Last week’s newsletter
on whether pedestrians should take responsibility for their own safety garnered many thoughtful member responses. We thought we would share a few with you.

From Dick Goodwin, New Hampshire:

Excellent article! And so true. Most pedestrians seem to have at least a small interest in self-preservation, but all too many apparently think their survival is someone else’s responsibility.

I have had a number of close calls in spite of exercising the greatest care, especially in shopping center parking lots, where there often are no crosswalks, and people just randomly stroll wherever they want without regard to whether there are cars moving around them or not.

My favorite is the woman who leaves the grocery store and heads for her car, while talking on her cellphone, pushing a shopping cart full of groceries and three little kids, one of which is running ahead of her, another trailing behind, and none of them paying any attention to cars.

I have some advice for pedestrians. These things all seem so common sense, but apparently they are anything but:

If you want to cross a street, in a crosswalk or not, wait for drivers to show that they have seen you and are going to stop for you, before you step off the curb.

If you are in a shopping center parking lot, and you are walking down a long line of cars all parked head in to their spaces, and one of them is in motion backing out of its space—STOP. Don’t just walk in back of it! You have no guarantee that the driver will see you and stop.

If you are walking across the parking lot from the store to your car, or vice versa, walk straight across, don’t take some long diagonal stroll down the driving lanes while slowly working your way across the lot. What are drivers even supposed to do with that?

Don’t ever assume that your legal right-of-way confers on you some kind of super power. It does not. The law that gives you that right-of-way is merely a man-made law, and man-made laws are always trumped by the laws of physics.

Boating laws always seem to reflect a more practical approach to right-of-way issues. There are clear rules for boaters to determine who has the right-of-way, such as a 15′ sailboat has the right-of-way over a 400′ oil tanker. But they always note that there is one law that trumps the right-of-way law, and that is the law of gross tonnage. Sometimes you need to cede your right-of-way to the other guy.

Your survival is your responsibility, nobody else’s, and no law can ever change that.

From Tom Beckett, Arkansas:   

I am always amazed at how pedestrians think that because they are in a crosswalk, they are invincible. I have seen too many of them just walk out into traffic, whether it is on a street, or in a Wal-Mart parking lot, without so much as a glance at the roadway. I’m guessing the thought process (if any) is, “I’m in the crosswalk, I have right of way.” That may well be, but it shows a stunning ignorance of the laws of physics, as well as human frailty. My wife will give me a funny look when I check for cars as we step into the Wal-Mart parking lot. I take nothing for granted. As my dad used to say, “Yes, you may be right. But you’re still dead.”

I drove a transit bus in the Binghamton New York area for a little over five years. One of the things I saw constantly was pedestrian inattention. There is a State University of New York campus in Binghamton, hence a lot of college kids. The ones who really got me were the ones who were either listening to some kind of device, both ears plugged into headphones, or the ones who were head down looking at their phones. Both types were prone to just launching off into the street without even looking up.

Finally, New York City. Ironic that the police commissioner wants to go after jaywalkers. I grew up in New York; jaywalking is kind of a birthright there. Of course, one of the first things I learned is that when crossing, look both ways—even on one-way streets. My guess is the NYPD will be after both the motorists and the jaywalkers, both potential sources of revenue because in New York, it’s all about the money.

From a Member in Hungary: 

The situation with pedestrians is far worse here in Budapest, Hungary. I have yet to hit anyone, but I’ve had many close calls! And I consider myself an excellent and very vigilant driver with demonstrably good reflexes even as a senior driver.

There is a law here (it’s also the dominating culture) that pedestrians are never at fault, when my personal experience—and that of other drivers I’ve spoken to—is that pedestrians are at fault most of the time.

Just about all pedestrians think “magically” on the street. For example, as you’d stated, they think the striped crossing lines will mystically and magically protect them. At the edges of town with poor lighting, or sun in the driver’s eyes, pedestrians sometimes can literally be invisible. People in dark clothes on a dark street are sometimes almost invisible until the headlights hit them (all too literally).

Anyway, not to belabor this point, as bad as it is in the United States, it’s even worse here. And we don’t have an NMA to lobby for drivers!

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