An article from the DC Area blog “Greater Greater Washington” posed an interesting question about whether a recent pedestrian enforcement campaign is essentially “blaming the victim” by targeting the wrong people for the wrong types of behavior. The sign (pictured to the right) encourages pedestrians to avoid distractions, always use a crosswalk, and obey the “walk/don’t walk” traffic signals. However, critics of the campaign suggest that the real problem isn’t with pedestrians, but rather inattentive drivers: a group of people who have much more potential to do harm than a random jaywalker.
While the fact that careless drivers pose more of a threat to pedestrians than vice versa is practically indisputable, that doesn’t change the reality that it would behoove most pedestrians to exercise caution when crossing city streets. Thumbing your nose at a campaign centered around exercising common sense, using good judgment, and obeying the law just because there are other things you deem more important seems completely absurd.
Sure, drivers could be more cautious. Yes, many pedestrian accidents happen to people who are legally crossing the street and fully aware of their surroundings. But insisting the campaign is “blaming the victim” would imply pedestrians don’t have any responsibility to stay out of harm’s way.
It’s not an “either/or” argument, and pedestrian accidents aren’t always black and white. Given that nearly four-fifths (79%) of pedestrian fatalities occur at non-intersections (PDF Link), isn’t there still some value to be gained by discouraging jaywalking?
Obviously we’re not advocating that police crackdown only on pedestrians or suggesting pedestrians aren’t frequently the victims of careless motorists. We’re merely arguing that providing valuable advice and enforcing existing laws is by no means a way of blaming the victim. Discounting a campaign because it doesn’t target what you want it to is a narrow and dismissive viewpoint. Especially when it’s possible the campaign could play a small role in preventing pedestrian fatalities.