Archive for the ‘pedestrian’ Category

A NY Times editorial jumps on the distracted-pedestrian bandwagon. It argues in favor of laws recently passed in Honolulu and Montclair outlawing the use of mobile devices by pedestrians at intersections.

In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever that distracted walking is a problem. Enforcing such a law would do nothing for pedestrian safety. Rather, it would be a pretext for police harassment of pedestrians.

The Times argues such laws are needed to enforce a “social contract” that everyone is responsible for their safety and regard for others. But there is no such social contract. Distracted pedestrian laws only apply to….pedestrians. Drivers are still free to use their mobile devices as they blast through intersections. Some car manufacturers, such as Tesla, even incorporate giant touchscreens in the dashboard.

The hysteria over distracted walking originates with the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), which speaks for state highway departments. State highway engineers have spent decades building a very dangerous transportation system. But rather than acknowledge professional blunders, the GHSA blames the victim. Pedestrians, you see, are getting killed because they are drunk and using cell phones.  For 2018, the GHSA annual report adds a new bogeyman — marijuana legalization:

Analyzing data for the first half of 2017, the Governors Highway Safety Association found a notable increase in pedestrian deaths in states that had legalized marijuana. Elsewhere, the death toll declined. It is too early for firm conclusions, but you can’t rule out that judgments are flawed when drivers and pedestrians go around stoned.

There were seven states that had legalized marijuana between 2012 and 2016 (Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington). While those states did see large increases last year in pedestrian fatalities, other factors (increasing VMT in particular) appears to be the culprit, not legalization. Except for Nevada, the legalization states still have lower overall pedestrian fatality rates compared to the national average. And interestingly, there is considerable debate within the medical community on what impact (if any) cannabis has on driver impairment.


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Three young men were out walking around 8pm in Ville Platte (La) when they were struck from behind by a truck. But rather than charge the truck driver, the three men were charged with misdemeanors for not wearing reflective clothing:

Police have fined the three for not wearing reflective clothing at night and charged them with obstructing a public passage. Twenty-one-year-old Deonte Williams, 19-year-old Cody Mayes and 17-year-old Tevin Wilson have scrapes, bruises and even staples after being hit by a truck on North Chataignier Street.

What the three find most upsetting is that the driver was not charged and they were.

“For me to find out that this guy gets to just go home, we all get some misdemeanors and nothing happened to him,” Williams explains. “I’m upset about it.”

The crash happened near a neighborhood around 8 p.m. Tuesday night. The area doesn’t have sidewalks.

That this happened in Ville Platte is no surprise. Ville Platte was recently investigated by the Federal DOJ for its practice of criminalizing walking and penalizing the poor. In 2011, the town passed a curfew prohibiting walking outside after 10pm. The curfew only applied to pedestrians. So while it was legal to drive to a nearby store or friend’s house, it was not possible to walk there. The penalty was $200 — or jail for those who couldn’t afford it. According to a complaint filed by the NAACP and ACLU, hundreds of residents were swept up each night for violating the curfew.

The DOJ investigation led to the city dropping the curfew, but other notorious laws remain. Besides the reflective clothing mandate, the Ville Platte fashion police will arrest anyone wearing baggy or sagging pants that fall “more than three inches below the hips causing exposure of the person or the person’s undergarments.”


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distracted_walkingTo read the news lately, you’d think thousands of millenials are so distracted by their iPhones that they are walking off cliffs and stepping in front of trucks. Everywhere, there are PSA’s warning pedestrians to refrain from walking and texting. The Governors Highway Association blames Distracted Walking for the increasing pedestrian death toll. And now Honolulu’s city council has taken things a step further by passing a bill prohibiting pedestrians from texting while crossing the street.

But how serious of a problem is Distracted Walking? Are policymakers basing decisions on hard data, or anecdotes? The author of the Honolulu measure says he was motivated by stories told to him by some high schoolers.

The mass hysteria over Distracted Walking originated with a paper published by Jack Nasar (Ohio State University) and his student Derek Troyer. They argued that the increasing use of cell phones had caused a spike in pedestrian injuries. They were featured in major newspapers, such as the NY Times. Cell phones, it was reported, had caused over 1,000 serious injuries per year. And that was just the “tip of the iceberg” it was argued because many injuries don’t require hospitalization.

In absolute terms, those numbers may seem catastrophic. But in relative terms, they are insignificant. Just 3% of the pedestrian hospitalizations involved a cell phone. That is according to Nasar’s own numbers.

The 3% figure accounts for any kind of injury, not just ones involving motor vehicles. And the 3% figure covers use of a cell phone in any kind public space, not just sidewalks. The Honolulu law would only regulate use within an intersection, which makes up only a tiny fraction of that 3%. Even worse, Nasar reports most Distracted Walking accidents (70%) involved talking, not texting. The Honolulu measure would only cover texting (presumably, pedestrians could still talk with the same hands-free devices drivers use).

So the proposed law in Honolulu cannot possibly have any impact on the city’s pedestrian safety because there are so few cell-phone injuries to begin with. If anything, it could degrade pedestrian safety if it (ahem) distracts police from more important enforcement issues, like speeding and drunk driving

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