Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Death on Foot: Too Much on Distracted Walking Canard

There's a classic "balanced" piece of "he said, she said" journalism on walking deaths in the paper today.

It comes from the Detroit Free Press, and it really exemplifies how difficult it is going to be to get incisive reporting on autoism. Is a paper in Detroit going to go all-in on a critical approach? And more generally, given how dependent are newspapers on car advertising, would they be willing to upset key advertisers?

So it starts with an "expert" saying it's bad actors. It's people. Cars are safe.
the answer to it is really social patterns, you know, having very little to do with cars. Because cars are so expensive.
What? The safety features primarily benefit those inside cars, not those outside. This conflates safety for drivers and passengers with safety for other road users. It also conflates safety with the signalling functions (even conspicuous consumption) of our car purchases and the system of wealth checks we use to weed out non-car owners from jobs and housing.

Focusing on bad actors behind the wheel is just another form of victim-blaming.

The second expert has a more nuanced approach, and rightly mentions "speed," though it is still in a subordinate position to distracted driving.

Finally, buried way at the end is a clear statement:
Drivers have a greater share of the responsibility than pedestrians because drivers are the ones operating a dangerous piece of equipment, Van Houten said.

Society, he said, already recognizes a difference, because not everyone is able to obtain a driver’s license. Anyone who is physically able, however, can be a pedestrian, and no license is needed to cross a street.

“People just need to be more careful,” Van Houten said.
Kids, the elderly, and disabled, in addition to everybody else, are just trying to cross the street or move along the road. Kids are by nature distracted, and we should have a street system that accommodates them. Sentences that use "distracted walking" should be recast as sentences about "children walking" to see if they still seem reasonable. Blaming distracted walking is a way to blame victims and also to avoid having a system that works for kids, the elderly, disabled, and those who by choice or by fortune do not have a car.

"Drivers are the ones operating a dangerous piece of equipment."

The one on the prospects robot cars and of further criminalizing improper walking is especially important. We run a great risk right now not of reducing driving and reducing speeds, but of seeking solutions in pedestrian control instead. We are seeing the same thing in the "scooter wars."

Update, July 12th

See, just a day later there's a small blurb that tells more about the real problem with cars and drivers. We have car problems, not walking problems.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Added DUI clip

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Crap. From Salem PD:

"At approximately 11:45 pm, on July 12, 2018, officers responded to Front Street SE near Ferry Street SE regarding a serious vehicle accident. A male pedestrian was struck by multiple vehicles while attempting to cross Front Street SE. The male sustained life threatening injuries and was transported to Salem Health by Salem Fire Medics. The drivers of the vehicles that struck the pedestrian remained on scene and are cooperating with investigators. The Salem Police Department Traffic Unit is at the scene and is currently investigating the crash."

There may be more to say on the crash and also about design speed on Front Street leading to fatal and near-fatal injuries.

Steven S said...

I was confused when I originally saw this because the "Death on Foot" article ( attributes the increase in pedestrian fatalities squarely on SUVs.

The article you're referring to was published on the same day ( I think it was a mistake for the Free Press to use Paul Snyder as an expert when his expertise is in the visual aspect of vehicle design, not safety. Of course an MFA who teaches aesthetics isn't going to want safety to get in the way of his creations.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for pointing out the two articles and the way a headline from one was transposed onto the other. It would have been much more interesting for our local USA Today/Gannett affiliate to pick up the original piece on SUVs. Thanks also for giving greater visibility to the mismatch in expertise between car design aesthetics on the one hand and road design and safety engineering on the other.