CA OTS “Safety” Campaign Blames Pedestrian Victims Killed By Drivers

You might think that OTS would make pedestrians safer during California Safety Month. You'd be wrong. Image via OTS website
You might think that OTS would make pedestrians safer during California Safety Month. You'd be wrong. Image via OTS website

Do you feel extra safe out walking this month? Did you know that September is California Pedestrian Safety Month? That’s the month when the California Office of Traffic Safety trots out their reheated ineffective pedestrian-blaming “Pedestrians don’t have armor” campaign.

The OTS “quiet battle” video accompanies the campaign:

Near the end of the video, a traffic signal turns, flashes the walk sign, and a pedestrian steps into a crosswalk. A car, that has clearly run a red light, comes within inches of killing the pedestrian. Somehow, in OTS’ ridiculous topsy-turvy campaign the lesson from the incident is a focus on the fault of the law-abiding pedestrian, and not the scofflaw driver.

The OTS campaign website states:

Most people think that car drivers are usually at fault in pedestrian crashes, but the crash reports show that pedestrian mistakes account for nearly as many crashes as do drivers.

The way the sentence is written, it sounds as if OTS is trying to bust a myth that “most people think” but is not true. But even from OTS’ crash report assertion “pedestrian mistakes account for nearly as many crashes as do drivers,” then it logically follows that car drivers ARE usually at fault in pedestrian crashes. What most people think is actually right: the drivers are the biggest problem in drivers crashing into pedestrians.

Further, OTS is making a false equivalence between walking and driving. The activity of walking is harmless. It requires no special training, no expertise. Kids do it. The activity of driving is operating a potentially-deadly piece of heavy equipment. It requires a state-mandated license to ensure that drivers accept responsibility.

Streetsblog reader Allon Percus (whose email formed the basis of this article) compares the OTS statement to similarly ridiculous victim-blaming statements:

Most people think that burglars are usually at fault in home break-ins, but the police reports show that homeowner mistakes (such as leaving windows or doors open) account for nearly as many burglaries as do burglars.

Most people think that aggressors are usually at fault in sexual assaults, but the incident reports show that survivor mistakes (such as inebriation or unintended signals) account for nearly as many sexual assaults as do aggressors.

The OTS website further blames pedestrian behavior, admonishing faulty pedestrians by repeating tired advice including “wear bright colored clothes and carry a flashlight if you are walking at night” and “look left-right-left before crossing a street.”

The problem is real. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the United States, on average, drivers kill a pedestrian every two hours and injure a pedestrian every seven minutes.

Should pedestrians understand these dangers and be aware of their surroundings? Of course.

Should public agencies waste time and money scolding pedestrians? No.

OTS’ crappy campaign equates driver and pedestrian fault. This does nothing to solve the traffic violence happening every day. If anything, the campaign merely fans the flames of driver attitudes that victims “had it coming.”

What has been shown to be effective? Hint: it is not quite as cheap as a tone-deaf PR campaign. Public agencies need to re-design streets, engineering them to be safer. Mostly this means slowing drivers down to prevent them from killing pedestrians. This is not easy. It goes against the grain of most California transportation engineering for the past century. But it does work. Streetsblog USA reports that the Washington D.C. region has successfully reduced pedestrian deaths, thanks to smart, targeted engineering solutions, including sidewalk extensions and road diets that calm traffic and narrow crossing distances.

  • Gundogary

    YOU HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION ALWAYS! I teach this to my grandson every time we cross the street. Just because you have the right of way doesn’t mean you will not get killed or seriously injured by a distracted driver, drunk driver or high speed pursuit. Just a thought!

  • Karam Levi

    I have driven, walked and riden my bicyle n motorcycle in SF for apx 25+ years.

    I learned young never stand in the street for ego or slow load / unload purposes.

    I was taught that cars may not always see you for a variety of reasons. Do you want to be right or do you want to be alive?

    I find most people would rather be right than alive as evidence of behavior.

    Standing on the razors edge of a curb, a few feet in the street “just because” and slowing traffic for ego or lazy purposes is a act of self negligence.

    I argued with my parents over this but realized safety first was a value not truly shared by most.

    I think business risks, extream sports, and some dates are more worthy risks than running into cross walks or walking against red sings and lights with head phones on always hoping others will flawless drive there machine.

    If your not flawless in your life via a myriad of tasks how can you believe others are flawless at driving.

    Anyways, chick with head phones balboa Bart walks right in traffic last week and screams at a driver who just barely stopped in time of striking her hard…
    she jay walked HALF the light and thought she was fine for the whole light, Nope.

    Rather than stop at the island she walked through head phones on, head down.

    Extreamly hard for income traffic to see her at night with head lights in there eyes.
    She would have died via self error making everyone very sad at minimue. Especially her parents I’m sure.

    Ego and carelessness is dangerous.
    I could humble myself thanks to my parents strength of safety first. FYI, I don’t feel oppressed. I cross streets all the time.

    Only time I came close to dying was jay walking in Maylaysia and the driver saved my life by acting fast. True story-

    Is it the oceans fault you drown if you misread conditions and partake in her water dance?

    Think about it. Alive is a important value to honor.

  • tommy t

    If the OTS cared about safety, they would launch a campaign to remind all Californians that pedestrians have the ROW at every non-signalized intersection, which is every place two streets meet. Whether or not one street is bigger, or one street doesn’t have a stop sign. This means drivers must use extreme caution when approaching all cross-streets.

    They’d also pressure police departments to routinely ticket failure to yield, and pressure all counties to pursue murder charges against at-fault drivers who kill.

  • D Man

    So now you are mincing words to differentiate between 49% and 50% and making up assumptions to prove your point. Bottom line is that pedestrians are at fault half the time (or nearly half) and if pedestrians behaved differently then those injuries and deaths would be reduced. That’s the truth, not assumptions or mincing words.

  • D Man

    One scene is a pedestrian clearly jaywalking on a busy street with his cell phone. The next scene is a car almost running over a pedestrian in a crosswalk. The narrator cites both as being wrong. You are bias, your comment exudes bias, and until you eliminate your bias you will never be able to see this issue objectively.

  • Melanie Curry

    It’s hardly anti-pedestrian-safety to point out that the real danger
    comes from the 2,000 pound vehicle hurtling towards pedestrians–or
    rather, the driver behind the wheel who is distracted by their device.
    If you watch the video, you’ll see why Joe calls out the OTS for what is
    a very one-sided perspective. As opposed to, say, this approach to
    safety: https://twitter.com/Jucesasi/status/905508970630086656

  • Melanie Curry

    Well said. That video was shocking–the car was no more than a blurry object, certainly not a human behind the wheel of a 2-ton vehicle. And the ad definitely put the onus on the pedestrian, even though he was clearly paying attention–he waited for the green light, and was crossing in the crosswalk. Was he somehow in the wrong for wearing earbuds? This is a dangerous, slippery slope.

  • Joe Linton

    “nearly as many” does not equal half – even the OTS stats are saying that drivers are at fault for more than half. (Also one things that probably skews the stats that I didn’t bring up – when the pedestrian dies, the driver’s sometimes self-serving story is the only one that gets told, hence the blame is assigned to the pedestrian with no recourse to challenge that fault.)

  • Stuart

    the lesson from the incident is a focus on the fault of the law-abiding pedestrian

    Seems pretty accurate to me. The camera stays on the pedestrian, who, looking shocked, takes out the earbuds that the spot uses as a prominent symbol of his clueless behavior, having learned his lesson. We never see a shocked driver, aghast at almost having killed someone.

    Do you really not see that the entire structure of this spot is focused on pedestrian behavior?

    The video is about shared responsibility.

    Yes, that’s the problem. For some reason, some people think that it’s reasonable to focus on sharing the responsibility for this near-accident between the pedestrian, who waited for the light and then crossed in the crosswalk, with the driver who ran the light.

    That doesn’t generally happen with drivers. Think about drunk driving campaigns, for instance–have you ever seen one where half the ads are focused entirely on the car hit by the drunk/distracted driver, with a voiceover saying something like, “There’s a battle happening on our roads. Sober drivers are driving around expecting people not to suddenly veer across the dividing line and crash into them head on without warning. Drunk drivers think they can drive safely enough. They’re both wrong.”

    Me neither.

    Defensive driving is a thing, but we don’t run lots of PSAs about it, and when a driver hits another car while doing something stupid or illegal we don’t always see a whole lot of people focusing on why the other driver wasn’t driving defensively enough.

  • D Man

    Why does Joe Linton have to constantly lie. He says, “Near the end of the video, a traffic signal turns, flashes the walk sign, and a pedestrian steps into a crosswalk. A car, that has clearly run a red light, comes within inches of killing the pedestrian. Somehow, in OTS’ ridiculous topsy-turvy campaign the lesson from the incident is a focus on the fault of the law-abiding pedestrian, and not the scofflaw driver.”

    While that scene is playing the narrator says, “Drivers act like they own the road. Both are wrong.” Clearly the ad is saying that the driver is at fault in that situation and not acting properly. The video is about shared responsibility. Please stop lying Joe.

  • D Man

    And the point of this ad campaign is that the “perpetrator” 50% of the time is the pedestrian. Shared space means shared responsibility. Drivers AND pedestrians have a shared responsibility to act responsibly when using the street. Your comment, and this article, incorrectly assumes that the pedestrian is never at fault when in fact the pedestrian is at fault 50% of the time. It’s just that when a pedestrian is at fault, the consequences are much greater for the party that is responsible and at fault for the accident.

  • keenplanner

    If the street is truly a shared public space, then whoever kills or injures another user of the space is at fault, no matter the mode. If the state is truly committed to “complete streets,” faulting the perpetrator would level the playing field for all street users. The public pays for the public space.

  • D Man

    So stripping away Joe Linton’s bias, pedestrians are at fault for half of the accidents involving pedestrians. And if pedestrians behaved in different ways, 50% of accidents involving pedestrians could be avoided. So by informing pedestrians as to things they could do to be safer, we are reducing the risk of injuries and death. Why is Joe Linton anti pedestrian safety?

  • There is a third solution but those in charge refuse to consider it. Notwithstanding the tragedies of these crashes, one must ask, would the Google car have stopped in time? What if there was a way these drivers could have started the braking ¾ of a second sooner and stopped 30 – 40 feet shorter, perhaps in an even shorter distance than the Google car. There is. Sad that those in charge of driver legislation and training refuse to teach student drivers the safer (But girly!) left foot braking method and ban driving instructors from teaching the very complicated and difficult to mentally maintain especially for older drivers, inefficient(poor stopping distance) and dangerous (right foot pedal errors) right foot braking on automatic cars. See DOT HS 811 597, 812 058and 812 431. NHTSA insists on calling it “pedal misapplication” and always blames the driver rather than their beloved right foot braking method. Score to date 150,000 dead, millions injured, and billions in costs. The price men both in and out of government are apparently willing to pay to maintain their systemic belief in right foot braking on automatic cars even though they have zero scientific justification. As one transportation “expert” said “That’s the way it’s always been taught”! This is not about who has the safer braking method but rather why they refuse to scientifically compare the two methods! Was it driver error or the way we taught them to brake?

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