Far from always being 'blamed', the motorist who kills a pedestrian in a crosswalk is almost always given the benefit of the doubt.
By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published March 21, 2013
A recent article by David Nelson, titled "Walking is Not a Crime: Questioning the Accident Axiom", reinforces many of the themes investigated on Raise the Hammer, notably that motorists are almost never charged for killing pedestrians, collisions in which pedestrians are injured or killed are seen as inevitable, and the media often blames the victim.
It is also points out that there are relatively simple solutions to the problem: design roads to engineer in lower speeds and change the law to shift the burden of evidence onto the more dangerous individual in the event of a collision.
Here are some representative quotes:
In 2012, 136 pedestrians were killed and another 11,621 were injured in New York City alone - and in all that time, only one sober, unacquainted driver was charged.
On blaming the victim:
[Media stories assume that]...in this world of unavoidable accidents, pedestrians and cyclists are senselessly putting themselves in harm's way by traversing concrete and asphalt. If they get hit, it is a deserved consequence of their poor decision making.
(Has the author heard of Rob Ford?)
On the mid-century change in media reportage:
This wasn't always the media's modus operandi. In the early 1900s, cars and their drivers were depicted in editorials, cartoons and accident reports as reckless murderers, as grim reapers spreading death across cities and as pagan gods appeased by the sacrificing of children. What changed, mid-century, was that the highway lobby essentially took over the reporting of pedestrian and cyclists harmed by drivers; unsurprisingly, they changed the voice of coverage to presume the innocence of drivers.
On a Vulnerable Users law:
On the policy side, get a Vulnerable Users Law introduced into your state legislature. Vulnerable Users Laws shift the burden of evidence onto the more dangerous individual. Drivers are responsible for cyclists, cyclists for pedestrians.
As the book Car Jacked by Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez points out, in the USA (and Canada) even if you kill a pedestrian or cyclist and are at fault, it is very unlikely you will face anything more serious than a $500 fine.
The only cases that result in serious charges are when it can be proved that you were deliberately trying to run someone down.
There are many cases of drivers in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area being sentenced to only the maximum $500 fine after killing a pedestrian in a crosswalk, even when the driver pleads guilty to failing to yield.
According to that linked article, the driver was originally charged with "careless driving", but the charge was reduced because "Police say careless driving is one of the toughest offences under the Highway Traffic Act to prove."
In other words, the penalty for killing a pedestrian in a crosswalk is a $500 fine (and the driver's own remorse).
This shows society's true attitude: lethal "accidents" are a normal part of driving, and drivers can't be expected to pay attention all the time.
Some more examples of drivers killing pedestrians in crosswalks getting off with $500 fines:
Driver pleads guilty to lesser charge in death of pedestrian (Mississauga.com)
$500 does indeed seem to be the normal cost to a careless driver at fault for killing a pedestrian.
Far from always being "blamed", the motorist who kills a pedestrian in a crosswalk is almost always given the benefit of the doubt: they are almost always charged with the minor offence of "failing to yield", with the assumption that no one can be sure why they failed to yield ... but they probably had a good excuse.
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