Victim blaming easy in stories about bike and pedestrian fatalities

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 6.54.32 AM

In the last few weeks, the Arizona Daily Star has been reporting more on the rise of bicycle and pedestrian crashes in the region.

The first was Tim Steller’s piece about the lives of bikers and walkers being cheap. This weekend, Becky Pallack reported that Tucson has broken a record for the number of pedestrian deaths at 16 for the year. Another five have died in the county.

Here’s a snippet of the article:

The trend is alarming, and it comes at a time when Tucson is launching a number of new pedestrian-safety projects, said Emily Yetman, a member of Tucson’s new Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

Police and pedestrian safety experts say at least part of the increase is due to pedestrians being more distracted. In the first fatal incident this year, a man was wearing headphones and looking at a handheld device while crossing Valencia Road.

Pedestrians have a responsibility to be aware of their surroundings, just like drivers, said Tucson police Sgt.Mary Kay Slyter.

“Pedestrians think, ‘I can see them: They must be able to see me,’ but that’s not the case,’ she said.

Even in a crosswalk, people need to be aware of vehicles around them, she said. “You may be right, but you don’t want to be dead right.”

A lot of the article talks a lot about pedestrians and their actions, but in my opinion not enough attention is paid on drivers and their responsibility on the road. The fact of the matter is that we have drivers hurtling around our streets in two-ton vehicles at 45 miles and hour who are all paying little attention to the road.

It’s true pedestrians need to pay attention, be aware of their surroundings and cross when it is safe, but not enough is being done to ensure motorists are treating driving as the privilege that it is.

The trouble with many of the crash reporting reports in which the victim is found at fault is that they are based primarily of account of the motorist in fatal crashes. It’s often a pretty biased and one-sided account. Of course the motorist says the pedestrian or bicyclist swerved or popped out in front of them.

It’s very hard to defend yourself when you are dead.

Sure Tucson has a texting ban, but to my knowledge no driver has been cited for driving and texting. I’ll tell you, though, I see several people texting and driving every single day while riding my bike. We pay a lot of lip service to safety, but often the enforcement is lopsided and impotent.

The numbers are slow to come out, but nationally there has been a rise in pedestrian deaths. According to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration pedestrians were one of the few road users to see increases in traffic deaths in 2011 (Three percent increase). Pedestrians also saw a four percent increase in 2010.

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 7.36.06 PM

In 2010, Arizona had the third highest pedestrian fatality rate at 2.28 fatalities per 100,000 people. Only Florida (2.58 per 100,000) and Delaware (2.45 per 100,000) had higher rates.

So far in 2013, the rate in the City of Tucson is 3.2 fatalities per 100,000.

Nationally, there were 1.73 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people.

According to a pedestrian report by New York City, the 3.2 fatalities per 100,000 people does not place Tucson in the top 10 when looking at 2008 data .

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 9.03.44 PMOut poor safety record has often been cited by the League of American Bicyclists as a concern in our Platinum applications and the situation is worse for pedestrians.

 

7 comments
Orvis
Orvis

Safety for autmobilists is built into roadway designs.  Doing something stupid in a car doesn't usually cost you your life.  This design priority comes at great expense to pedestrians.  Wide roadways and cars at speed are deadly obstacles to pedestrians.  Generally speaking people on foot are just trying to get from point 
A to point B efficiently but they're using a system of roadways that wasn't designed with them in mind.  It's unfortunate that rather than examining this massive failure of infrastructure we as a society attempt to place the blame with the victims. 

I use the HAWK crossings at Treat and Speedway, Broadway and Norris, Euclid and Lester and Campbell and Blacklidge regularly.  It is becoming increasingly common to see cars entering the intersection after I've gotten a walk signal.  It's also not uncommon to have cars using the stopped traffic to execute their turns through the crosswalk.  U-turns at Treat are very normal.  This isn't really about dark clothing and distracted walking.  

Randy Garmon
Randy Garmon

I too found the emphasis of the article of putting "the blame on pedestrians" to be disturbing, but even more disturbing is the fact (included in the article) that in a typical year, 300 more pedestrians are involved in nonfatal accidents ... 300!

There is a mind-set in this area that pedestrians and cyclist are second class citizens.  I have been in other parts of the country (Seattle and Minneapolis come to mind) where if you are standing on the curb, cars stop to let you cross.  Here the law says cars must stop if you are in the crosswalk, so if you are on the curb no one slows down.

Yes, there will always be the situations where the pedestrian is to blame, but I suggest that the majority of these accidents are a result of driver inattention/distraction and the high speeds of car traffic in Tucson.


3wheeler
3wheeler

I can't speak about the typical pedestrian in Tucson, but the students around the U of A must believe they have some kind of force field that protects them because they step off the curb without even looking.  I don't know what to say about whether drivers who hit pedestrians are being let off the hook or not.  I imagine some are, and some aren't.  If you're out walking around at night, you probably shouldn't wear an all black outfit.  I've seen pedestrians dressed like that more than once.  I should say, I've barely seen pedestrians who were dressed like that.  I barely missed one black guy one night who was dressed all in black.  This isn't funny, the only thing that saved him was that he looked at me a second before I would've been on him.  I veered when I saw the whites of his eyes.  I think it's hard to let a driver off if the accident happened in broad daylight.  The pedestrian has to be a U of A student for the driver to be found innocent.

RandomBikeGuy
RandomBikeGuy

I agree that driver's aren't getting the "credit" they deserve, but I have seen pedestrians do some of the dumbest things here in Tucson.  I think we are lucky that the drivers are paying enough attention to avoid most of the "crazy" pedestrians in the first place.

Another issue with enforcement, especially the texting/distracted driving goes to the root of many problems in Tucson.  We don't fund the enforcement, infrastructure or many of the other things that would make this community better.  No one wants to pay more taxes, but putting more money in means that we get more out...

pedalpics
pedalpics

Yeah was offended by that article in the Sunday paper for this very reason and just stopped reading it.

sluggh
sluggh

@3wheeler You barely avoided hitting a black guy by dint of noticing the "whites of his eyes." Let's let that amazing claim steep for awhile.

3wheeler
3wheeler

@sluggh @3wheeler 

It's not a claim, it's the truth.  It's not even the only time it happened.  Another time I avoided hitting a different black guy only because his black pant leg rose up to reveal a white sock.  This isn't meant to be funny, or send any sort of message except to say that wearing light colored clothes at night might keep you alive.  On the other hand, it won't keep you from getting hit if the driver is sending a text message on his phone and not looking out the windshield.  However, when the cops come and see you're dead body already dressed for a funeral, they'll take the driver's statement, "I never saw the guy," in a very different way.