So Very Pedestrian

An inattentive pedestrian about to straddle a balance beam and make his nards ajar.

An inattentive pedestrian about to straddle a balance beam and make his nards ajar.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants you to know that “On average, a pedestrian was killed every two hours and injured every seven minutes in traffic crashes.” (Source: Traffic Safety Facts: Pedestrians, April 2014.)

And they’re doing something about it, too.

While other aspects of driving safety continue to improve, pedestrian fatalities due to traffic crashes are up eight percent since 2009.

Perhaps if pedestrians stopped placing themselves in front of objects with mass traveling at speed? I may not be as smart as the federal government but that seems like a big part of the problem to me.

Physics has got to physics, yo know? Physics has no desire to play nice, do what’s fair, be compassionate, take sides, or even attempt to adhere to the rules of good form. Like Dr. Momma used to say, “physics does what physics does.” It’s apolitical. Asexual, too, but if you disrespect physics it will fuck you over.

The NHTSA’s solution is one with real traction. Make $2 million in grant money available to cities with high rates of pedestrian deaths. Because, money can buy you love. The money is to be used to “influence the safety of pedestrians through public education and enforcement initiatives.”

Yeah, that’ll work.

Translated I think this means public works projects, catchy slogans, PSAs, posters, brochures and overtime for law enforcement personnel to conduct “pedestrian stings.” Hint: I’ve never seen a pedestrian sting in my life that focused on the behavior of pedestrians. It’s all about the drivers.

A Crosswalk Sting or “pedestrian decoy operation” is an enforcement and public education action in which plainclothes police officers cross at mark or unmarked crosswalks, and drivers who fail to yield to them are given warnings or tickets. An important aspect of the action is notifying the media ahead of time to ensure good coverage of the crosswalk sting, providing broader community awareness. Crosswalk stings have been found to significantly increase yielding by drivers.

Source: Some wiki.

If these operations really help, then why is the number of pedestrian deaths still on the rise?

One idea from the NHTSA is that “Everyone is a pedestrian. Whenever you are not in your vehicle, you are a pedestrian!” Personally I take exception to be painted with that brush, although there are some times when I’m not in my car. I prefer the word “victim.” And that’s also why I always look both ways before crossing the hallway on my way to the kitchen. Cat claws can really hurt, you know?

The way I see it, there are two sides to this equation. Every pedestrian fatality requires at least two components. And, in my humble opinion, any solution must address both sides of that equation. Yes, the NHTSA website includes tactics aimed at pedestrians, too. Like signs near walk signal buttons advising them to wait. Yeah, that’ll work!!

As long as pedestrians maintain a culture of impunity and think they can do whatever they want the law of physics is going to continue to write a few citations of its own, usually in the form of his close, personal friend, the Grim Reaper.

The other day I had to drive a Portland surface street three miles in one direction. In that short period of time I experienced the entire gamut of pedestrian suicidal behavior. One dude jumped out between two parked cars and immediately began angrily gesturing at traffic as if to say, “I’m here now. You better stop. I’m a pedestrian. Here I come.” I wish my eyeballs were video cameras because this behavior was almost inconceivable. “Go ahead, nasty cars, see if you can bounce off my super hero outfit. Your body damage isn’t my problem. I hope you have good comp and collision!”

I watched another person walk out into the street and they never looked for traffic. They didn’t look left. They didn’t look right. Maybe they were conducting a science experiment called “Should I Continue To Live?” Hypothesis: A deity will save me if that is their plan. Don’t any pedestrians have mothers? Mine taught me to look both ways before crossing the street. Sadly that form of wisdom is too old school and home spun for this modern society on the go.

The NHTSA really cares about pedestrians. No, they won’t do anything that actually changes their culture of behavior. They don’t care quite that much. But I downloaded their Everyone Is A Pedestrian “Safety Tips” and read nuggets of wisdom like this:


Look out for pedestrians everywhere, at all times. Safety is a shared responsibility.

“At all times.” So it’s on the driver to watch for pedestrians. How the fuck is this a responsibility that is “shared?” Pedestrians will do what they want, protected by their magic shields and all, and drivers had better be on the lookout. Remember, your #1 job as a driver is to expect the unexpected. 100% of your attention should be directed at guessing what other people might do. It helps to keep a Ouija board in the passenger seat. At least that method provides some warning.

Speed control. Navigation. Getting from point A to point B. 360 degrees of awareness. Maintain safe following distance. Observe all relevant objects and ignore all non-relevant objects. Nope. Those are all passé and not for today’s modern driver. Your focus should be on pedestrians “at all times.” That’s your only job as a driver.

Say and do whatever you want, humans. Pat yourselves on the back and feel good about your humanitarian efforts. Feel like you’ve made a difference. But unless you really address the real roots of a problem, not much is going to change. So says Physics.

Here’s my attempt at a PSA: “Hey, pedestrians. You don’t wanna die? Then listen up! The street is a dangerous place. Cars are there and shit. When it comes to remaining a viable life form there’s only one equation you need to remember. Objects with mass traveling at speed will kill you. Do your best to avoid them. Lines on the ground don’t mean shit. Lights that communicate concepts like stop and go don’t mean shit. If you get in the way of an object that is moving at speed relative to your position you could be killed. Right of way? Don’t mean shit. A driver could be inattentive or distracted, perhaps blinded by the sun. Right of way won’t keep you alive. Pay attention. Your life is in no one’s hands but your own.”

I’ll take my $2 million in federal grant money now.

Bringeth forth thy pith and vinegar

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