Staying safe on the roads is a shared responsibility, right? After all, pedestrians don’t want to die and drivers (theoretically) don’t want to kill them, so everyone needs to share the responsibility, right? We’re all in this together!
That’s the message we hear in constant public-education campaigns from Heads up Halifax, the police, etc. They remind drivers to do their part by obeying the laws (except stopping at unmarked crosswalks, which is inconvenient, so just don’t worry about it), and urge pedestrians do their share by only using crosswalks, looking both ways, wearing bright clothing, not even thinking about their iPhones, twirling flags while crossing the street, and taking care to dodge any cars whose drivers can’t bother to stop.
Here’s the problem with this whole shared-responsibility chestnut: the share isn’t remotely equal, the potential to do harm isn’t remotely equal. When drivers are careless and inattentive, they run over pedestrians. When pedestrians are careless and inattentive, drivers run them over. See the imbalance there? Drivers have all the potential to do harm, at no risk to their own lives.
It only makes sense to put the onus for safety on the person with the greatest potential to do harm. You don’t hear a lot of gun-safety messages that say “Not getting shot is a shared responsibility. People need to put down their iPhones and stay out of the gun owner’s line of fire!”
From Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, drivers hit 158 pedestrians in the Halifax area. (That’s up from 154 in the same period last year, according to Halifax Regional Police statistics). In 59 per cent of collisions, drivers hit pedestrians in crosswalks. In 102 of those cases, pedestrians were injured. Four of the incidents resulted in “severe” injuries. The other 98 were “minor” or “moderate” injuries: bland little adjectives that don’t begin to describe the chronic pain, trauma, impairment, and loss of mobility that often result.
No drivers were injured in any of those collisions. My research hasn’t unearthed a single instance of a Halifax driver being killed or injured in a pedestrian collision. Ever.
Shared responsibility is a misleading message. At its worst, it suggests pedestrians are to blame for being hit by cars. At its best, it suggests the stakes and risks are equal for drivers and pedestrians. They’re not. In every crosswalk, a pedestrian risks death and serious injury. A driver approaching the same crosswalk risks a ticket.
Want to really address this problem? Lower speed limits and enforce them. That gives drivers more time to react, and greatly increases pedestrian safety. According to a World Health Organization report, people have less than a 50-per-cent chance of surviving when hit by a car going 45 km/h. But slow that car down to 30 km/h, and the pedestrian-survival rate climbs to 90 per cent.
Forcing cars to slow down will do a lot more to save lives than scolding pedestrians will.