Blaming the Victim When Pedestrians Are Injured

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published September 13, 2012

I am continually appalled by the way some drivers automatically blame the victim when pedestrians are injured, even when the story in question is about a case that is clearly the fault of the driver!

This article is about a pedestrian "taking revenge" after narrowly avoiding injury when crossing at a crosswalk.

The article starts off with the claim, "Distracted pedestrians may be the cause of a large percentage of crosswalk accident statistics, but the reality is that it is still the driver's responsibility to keep their eyes on the road."

Just where is the evidence that it is distracted pedestrians (and not distracted or aggressive drivers) who are the cause of "a large percentage of crosswalk accident statistics"? What exactly is "a large percentage"? The majority?

The editor at the Star's Wheels column just seems to know this is true. In any case, pedestrians crossing with the light have the right of way in a crosswalk, and motorists must yield to them, not just 'keep their eyes on the road'.

Further, a motorist is supposed to be in full control of their vehicle at all times and avoid hitting pedestrians, no matter what they are doing and whether they have the right of way or not.

Study: Most Pedestrians Hit Had Right of Way

For information, in 2007 the City of Toronto actually did a study on pedestrian deaths and injuries [PDF] and did not find that pedestrian distraction is the cause of a large percentage of crosswalk accident statistics.

In fact, the majority - 57 percent - of pedestrians actually had the right of way at the intersection when they were hit. Regarding inattention, the report implies that driver inattention is the primary factor, at least at intersections:

Often, motorists and pedestrians are not paying full attention when using the road network. Such inattentive behaviour can be a contributing factor in many pedestrian/motor vehicle collisions. Such is the case of when the motorists need to perform turning movements (e.g. turning left at the intersection), drivers tend to pay more attention to the oncoming traffic rather than looking for pedestrians crossing in the crosswalk.

Interestingly, the report quotes the Highway Traffic Act definition of a pedestrian crossing:

Under Section 1 of the Highway Traffic Act, a crosswalk is defined as either "the extension of the lateral lines of the sidewalks on opposite sides of a roadway or a location at the intersection; or, is any portion of a roadway at the intersection or elsewhere distinctly indicated for pedestrian crossing by signs or by lines or other markings on the surface."

I wonder how many Ontarians, including police officers and traffic engineers, realize that every intersection is defined as a crosswalk, whether it is a controlled intersection or not?


In section 144(28) of the Highway Traffic Act, "every pedestrian who lawfully enters a roadway in order to cross may continue the crossing as quickly as reasonably possible despite a change in the indication he or she is facing and, for purposes of the crossing, has the right-of-way over vehicles."

In other words, any pedestrian who is lawfully crossing a roadway automatically has the right of way. This doesn't just apply to signalized intersections!

Signalized crosswalks for pedestrians are called crossovers, and in Hamilton the general attitude is that motorists only need to stop at a signal (red light or stop sign), which greatly limits the safety and convenience of pedestrians, especially children and seniors.

It is time to stop reflexively blaming the victim when pedestrians are injured or killed, and focus on how to design safer streets.

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.


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By James (registered) | Posted September 13, 2012 at 08:36:21

So......pedestrians have right of way even when jaywalking! That is actually kind of awesome. I could single-handedly bring traffic on King to a halt by a leisurely shuffle.

I think we need to start some kind of Critical Mass thing, but for pedestrians instead of cyclists.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted September 13, 2012 at 11:13:31 in reply to Comment 80897

I don't think the intent is to authorize people to run out in front of cars and then hold the driver responsible.

The idea is that you are supposed to be driving properly - attentive and not distracted or angry. That allows for emergency action when required. The emergency can be a drunk on the wrong side of the highway, a person thrown out of a vehicle, a kid running out chasing a ball, a medical emergency where someone falls into the roadway ...

And yes even an idiot jaywalker, who should be stiffly fined for stepping out into traffic dangerously which endangers everyone, but does not absolve the driver of making every reasonable attempt to not run a person over.

All of these examples have happened in the GTA. An emergency action is not always possible, and the driver will not be held responsible if it was not possible, provided the driver was driving properly. In the video above the driver was not watching for pedestrians using the crosswalk.

Let's not twist and distort this beyond the common sense that applies here.

edit : forgot to add that there is a lot to be said for taking your foot off the gas once in a while and letting someone in even if they are momentarily in your way. you know, old fashioned courtesy. when reasonably and thoughtfully done it makes life for everyone in the city more relaxed and not such a death race. you live in a city. by definition there are going to be people of all kinds out and about. perhaps a rural setting might be more suitable for those who want to drive at 80kph all the time.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2012-09-13 11:20:47

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By thrillhouse (registered) | Posted September 15, 2012 at 13:57:49 in reply to Comment 80908

A lot of the problem seems to arise due to an erroneous presumption that, if someone enters the roadway illegally, the driver is under no legal obligation to refrain from hitting them -- after all, that person shouldn't be there -- and that it is solely out of the goodness of their hearts that they slow down and avoid a collision.

This is, of course, absurd. But it does seem to explain a lot of passive-aggressive behaviour on the roads.

The weirdest instances I encounter are at four-way stops: a lot of drivers seem to think that they're under no obligation to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk on the far side of the intersection they're crossing. I've almost been hit a few times in this way by drivers I'm almost certain were looking directly at me, but who fail even to take their foot off the gas. On one occasion, I've even seen a driver honk at and swerve around a pedestrian crossing a road in this way. In broad daylight.

Comment edited by thrillhouse on 2012-09-15 14:00:55

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By irratated (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2012 at 13:16:14

how about blaming the cyclist's that drive on the damn sidewalk

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By davidslingshot (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 14:20:03

Cutting off pedestrians is nothing short of bullying. In Ontario I think it is worth 2 points although careless driving charges have been laid when a pedestrian is hit. The rest of the bullies have all the rights in the world to cut you off...because they are bigger.This happens to me everyday and when I see children in the car...I just know they will become bullies as well....nothing short of child abuse. If bullying is a problem then the obvious way to slow it down is to charge drivers with careless driving, a crimnial offense. It will cost them because they would have to appear in court with legal representation.

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