In the hustle and bustle of Central Florida's diverse landscape, the quest for safer streets…
by Vince Dyer, BFF Program Manager
When it comes to pedestrian-related crashes, a troubling trend has been emerging: the tendency to blame pedestrians for accidents that result in severe injuries or fatalities. While it is true that both pedestrians and drivers share responsibility for road safety, shifting blame solely onto pedestrians fails to address the root causes of such incidents.
The Best Foot Forward (BFF) program seeks to change the narrative on pedestrian collisions by engaging with the community at outreach events across Central Florida. But according to Jenna Mousseau, an outreach specialist with BFF, many drivers are unsympathetic to the plight of pedestrians. “So often, when people learn about our program’s mission, they immediately go into their own spiels about issues they have with pedestrians, without once mentioning the capabilities and responsibilities of drivers,” she said. “These kinds of conversations show me how many people never experience the hostility of car-centered infrastructure as pedestrians in their own communities.”
BFF Outreach Coordinator Kenzie Anderson mirrored Jenna’s observations. “Unfortunately, we experience interactions like this more frequently than anyone would expect. A majority end up blaming the pedestrian or cyclist for these crashes, rather than taking a deeper look at the causes of these issues. Our responsibility is to offer a different perspective, and shift that focus from pedestrian victim-blaming to a perspective on drivers and infrastructure.”
Pedestrians today live in a narrow window of blame.
Imagine a community from 150 years ago, prior to the rise of automobiles. The streets are dominated by the gentle clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages. Pedestrians cross the streets freely without worry. As the first encounters with automobiles unfold, a dance of uncertainty ensues. With no established rules or infrastructure, both drivers and pedestrians must learn to adapt. However, as cars become the primary method of transportation, roads are engineered to move these cars as quickly as possible, making them increasingly dangerous for pedestrians.
Now imagine a not-so-distant future where most cars on the road are self-driving. While these autonomous cars are still in the early stages of development, they already have advanced sensor technologies, predictive capabilities, and improved reaction times compared to human drivers. They also reduce the frequency of driver-related errors such as distraction, fatigue, and impairment. It’s easy to envision how these technologies could create drastic improvements for pedestrians on our roads.
Why Blaming Pedestrians is Counterproductive
Analyzing the past and future of automobiles leads to an obvious question: Who is primarily responsible for preventing collisions with pedestrians? Pedestrians are our most vulnerable road users, lacking the protection of a vehicle. Yet in the minds of drivers, they are frequently held accountable for collisions. This tendency stems from several misconceptions that cloud our understanding of road safety dynamics:
First, the “blame the victim” mentality often overlooks the fact that pedestrians have the right to use roads safely and responsibly too. Regardless of their actions, pedestrians should not be subject to avoidable harm. Instead of apportioning blame, it is crucial to analyze the broader context and contributing factors involved in these incidents.
Second, the perception that pedestrians are solely responsible for their own safety disregards the role of infrastructure design and inadequate driver education. Infrastructure plays a pivotal role in creating a safe environment for pedestrians, with well-marked crosswalks, clear signage, and traffic-calming measures. Additionally, driver education plays a critical role in fostering a culture of responsibility, attentiveness, and awareness on the part of motorists.
What should be the focus of driver education when it comes to pedestrians?
- Awareness and Responsiveness: Comprehensive driver education programs that focus on pedestrian safety can significantly reduce accidents. Teaching drivers about the vulnerabilities and rights of pedestrians fosters empathy and encourages drivers to be more cautious and attentive on the roads. By increasing awareness and responsiveness, driver education can prevent collisions and save lives.
- Understanding Road Sharing: Effective driver education emphasizes the importance of sharing the road with pedestrians. Drivers should be educated about the significance of yielding to pedestrians at crosswalks, avoiding distracted driving, and maintaining appropriate speeds in residential areas and near schools or busy pedestrian zones. Education empowers drivers to make informed decisions that prioritize the safety of all road users.
- Handling Challenging Situations: Driver education should equip motorists with the skills necessary to handle challenging situations involving pedestrians. Training drivers to anticipate pedestrian behavior, especially in urban areas, can help prevent accidents caused by sudden pedestrian movements. Education should also emphasize the need to yield to pedestrians when making turns or crossing intersections, reducing the likelihood of collisions.
Creating a shared responsibility among motorists can help foster an environment where drivers actively contribute to creating safer roads, whereas scapegoating pedestrians is an oversimplification that hinders its progress. Solutions must involve prioritizing driver education, improving infrastructure, and enhancing pedestrian safety measures to significantly reduce accidents, injuries, and fatalities. By using a comprehensive approach that promotes responsibility, attentiveness, and awareness among drivers, we can promote a culture of road safety and accountability for all.