Swaying Jaywalkers with Humor

When it comes to enforcing laws like jaywalking, strictly imposed tickets and fines motivate people to change their behavior. John Cichowski discusses whether light-hearted, even humorous, suggestions can be as effective as heavy-handed prosecution.
January 9, 2013, 6am PST | Jessica Hsu
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After four pedestrian deaths in Fort Lee, New Jersey, the city's jaywalking law was strictly enforced by Mayor Mark Sokolich and his police chief. The campaign provided fodder for Jay Leno, and the question arose, "Might there be a less politically offensive way to get the jaywalking message across? Maybe something laced with talk show humor?"

In Philadelphia, officials believe they can rely on wit rather than threat to convince people to stop jaywalking. Starting in late February, signs will be put up that give advice to pedestrians along the lines of "Cross smart. You're fast, but cars are faster" and to drivers, "Thank you for not running pedestrians over. It's road safety, not rocket science."

These messages might work, says Cichowski, "But here's the rub. Humor, whether parody or outright sarcasm, can be dangerous when dealing with road crashes that kill more than 32,000 people nationally each year." Fort Lee has experienced no pedestrian deaths since jaywalkers were threatened with tickets, which shows that traditional methods are effective. However, what Philadelphia may have found is "a way to walk a tightrope between educating violators and threatening them with enforcement."

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Published on Friday, January 4, 2013 in NorthJersey.com
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