To Combat Pedestrian Deaths, Shift Blame from the Victim

With many states witnessing a rise in pedestrian fatalities, David M Nelson asks: "Where is the public outcry to improve safety?" With pedestrians often blamed for such incidents, he argues new laws dealing with pedestrian-vehicle crashes are needed.
February 15, 2013, 9am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Why is it that defensless pedestrians are often the first to be blamed for collisions with vehicles? As Nelson explains, this hasn't always been the case. "In the early 1900s, cars and their drivers were depicted in editorials, cartoons and accident reports as reckless murderers....What changed, mid-century, was that the highway lobby essentially took over the reporting of pedestrian and cyclists harmed by drivers; unsurprisingly, they changed the voice of coverage to presume the innocence of drivers."

Nelson spreads the blame to the American legal system which includes "few laws motivate law enforcement to consider killing a pedestrian as a crime."

Lastly, he points a finger at the media for their portrayal of such incidents. "First and foremost, underlying all of the poor media coverage is what I call the 'Accident Axiom.' This is the widely-held (but almost never-question) belief that accidents are an unavoidable and innocent consequence of modern motorized society. The assumption here is that crashes not involving excessive speed, alcohol, or gross negligence are presumably the fault of no one, but an unfortunate systemic fluke."

"This axiom has two corollaries: the Inherent Risk Corollary and the Reckless Driver Corollary. The former states that in this world of unavoidable accidents, pedestrians and cyclists are senselessly putting themselves in harm’s way by traversing concrete and asphalt. If they get hit, it is a deserved consequence of their poor decision making. And the latter states that those rare instances when a driver is at fault, it is the result of that driver being a reckless and careless individual, a deviant member of society. All blame is attributed to the individuals involved. The road network and driving culture are given immunity."

Solutions to this conundrum include: getting a Vulnerable Users Law introduced into your state legislature, lowering the speed of traffic, and convincing media outlets to change the way they report on pedestrian deaths.

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Published on Thursday, February 14, 2013 in PPS Placemaking Blog
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