Friday, November 19, 2010

Pedestrian collision prevention - Education, Awareness and Responsibility

My daughters are in the thick of learning how to read right now.  Some words they see and say, some they sound out and get right, while others they just can’t find the ways yet to put the sounds together and miss it completely.

When that happens, I have a choice to make.  Do I help them with the word or just ignore their mistakes and let them go on repeating their errors?  I mean, at their age, who really cares…it’s not like they are reading anything that can be the difference between passing their grade or failing…yet.  But I can assure you, if their errors aren’t pointed out, it will make a huge difference someday.  As painful as it may be, pointing out their errors is in their best interest for long-term success.

It’s a lot like pedestrian safety.  My partner and I had a very busy day answering media questions about the ‘sudden spike’ in pedestrian collisions over the last 48 hours.  (If you go back to just before Halloween, we were warning people that this was going to happen.)

The media wanted to know who is to blame, who is at fault, why is this happening and why people aren’t getting the message.  So we responded to the questions.

Who is to blame?
Simple…road users.
Who is at fault?
Simple…road users who aren’t aware, alert and observant.
Why is this happening?
Human error, distraction, environment, daylight savings time, clothing choices, ambient light, on and on.
Why aren’t people getting the message?
No answer from me…I guess you would have to ask the people who are causing the problems.

You see, road safety is everyone’s responsibility.  Plain and simple.  Everyone who uses the roads plays a role in the ensuring safety for themselves and for the other road users around them.

When a pedestrian is stuck by a vehicle, the pedestrian will always be on the losing end.  The easy thing to do would be to blame the driver for not doing their part in ensuring the safety of the pedestrian.  But, sometimes that is not the right thing to do, nor is it ever the proper thing to do for long term success of reducing collisions, injury and death.

A pedestrian who isn’t watching where they are going, disobeying traffic signals, impeding traffic, wearing dark clothes at night, crossing mid-block is not doing anything to help keep our roads safe.  They aren’t doing anything to keep themselves safe.

A driver who is distracted, travelling too fast for conditions, not looking where they need to be, impaired, etc,  is not doing anything to help keep our roads safe.  They aren’t doing anything to keep themselves safe and they aren’t doing anything to keep pedestrians safe.

A pedestrian who crosses a street mid-block at night wearing dark clothing, texting, where street lights are burnt out while listening to an MP3 player is doing nothing in terms of taking personal responsibility for their own safety.  According to many people today, I should ignore that and never point things out like that because I could be blaming the ‘victim’ (I’ll get to that in a minute).

You bet I’m going to point that out!

Now, what if a car strikes that pedestrian?  You bet I’m going to question why the driver didn’t see the pedestrian.  I’m going to ask about the speed, the lighting the location, the sight lines, the environment.  I’m going to point out that each road user has responsibility for one another.

This whole post is because of how interviews are turned into reports.  You can be sure that when PC Hugh Smith and I are interviewed we look at all angles of any incident and where there is a safety message to any category of road user, driver, cyclist, pedestrian or transit user, we include it.

Anytime there are two people involved, each of their actions will be analyzed.  If there is any message that we can bring to light to help educate and raise awareness, we’ll bring it up.

But, no matter what we say, we do not have the last word.  It is always up to the reporters to file and even then, editors and producers have their opportunity to massage a report.  So the final copy rarely tells the whole story.

So when you read or watch, understand that there is way more information that doesn’t make a story than does.

In traffic safety, we avoid referring to anyone as a victim.  Since a pedestrian is considered a vulnerable road user, (none or little protection), people naturally refer to them as the victim.  They do get the worst of it after all. We refer to them as the injured party. Simply stated they are not always the victim.  A pedestrian that steps onto the roadway into the path of the car, not allowing the driver any opportunity to avoid striking that pedestrian can very successfully be argued as the actually the victim of someone else’s action.  Sure the pedestrian is going to be on the losing end.

All the parties involved are victimized in one manner or another.  Our society as a whole can be argued as the victims.  Because of a bad crash, roads get closed, transportation flow is compromised, people miss meetings, goods are delayed, infrastructure suffers, etc…we are all victims. 

In the end, if our road safety messaging is interpreted as placing blame, then so be it.  I would rather point out the mistakes that have led to road tragedies in an effort to educate others from making the same mistakes then to ignore the obvious and allow the same mistakes to be perpetuated.

So, that’s my view. What are yours? Agree, disagree? Let me know.  The communication is what creates awareness and education.  Thanks for reading.