Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Darwinism at work

Am I arrogant, insensitive and boorish? Or am I trying to put across an argument that people don't want to hear? That's the question when it comes to this entry's subject, which is this : pedestrians in traffic.

Around Christmas 2007, two teenage girls scaled the fence at the side of I-15 one night - the motorway close to where I live - and ran across traffic. The section of motorway they chose to do this on is poorly lit, and it was in the middle of a blizzard. As you might expect, one of them was hit and killed as they tried to dodge 10 lanes of fast-moving traffic. Why did they do this? To get to the mall on the other side of the motorway, which as it turned out, could have been accessed by a pedestrian underpass only 300m from where the girl was killed.

Nobody initially came forward as the driver "responsible" for the girl's death. The police went all-out to find whoever it was, and did eventually arrest someone, jailing him for - wait for it - failing to stop.

In what universe or reality is that death in any way, shape or form the fault of the driver who hit her? The police even admitted that the damage to the driver's car was so slight that it's entirely likely he didn't even know he'd hit her. More likely he winged her and she was thrown in front of a truck. But charging him for failing to stop? So - what - are we expected to slam on the brakes in motorway traffic now when some mental case tries to dodge traffic? Surely the consequences of that would be far more dire?

So here's the question then : why is it the driver's responsibility not to hit pedestrians in traffic? Why is it not the pedestrian's responsibility to not step into the road in the first place?
Better yet - why are they not accountable or responsible for their actions?

By this warped logic, I ought to be able to drive my car on the pavement (sidewalk), mowing people down who weren't paying attention enough to get out of my way, and then being able to blame them for the damage to my car. Of course that's a ridiculous example but at it's most basic level it's no more ridiculous than blaming the motorist for the actions of wayward pedestrians.

I find it intolerable that there are campaigns that seek to blame the driver for the stupidity of the pedestrian, and trust me, they are amazing in their idiocy; over 80% of pedestrian casualties are their own fault (see The Facts On Speeding for more info).

It's at this point where I'm always accused of being insensitive, or having no idea what it's like to hit someone in a motor vehicle. Sadly, I do. Years ago, I was commuting home on my motorbike when a businessman who was running along the pavement using his cellphone suddenly decided he just had to be on the other side of the road. I braked, but it didn't stop me hitting him square in the back and throwing him 15m down the road, hospitalising him. I was fortunate though - there were eye witnesses who corroborated the events, and I wasn't charged with anything. Given the anti-driver bias nowadays though, had I not had witnesses, I imagine I'd have spent time behind bars.

So a conundrum then. Obviously any sane human being wouldn't want to go around killing pedestrians simply because they walk into traffic. But then wouldn't any sane human being not want to stray into traffic on foot in the first place?

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