Car-makers Blaming Pedestrians, Again?

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) wants the world to know about the hazards of distracted walking. Distracted walking is, of course, walking while using a cell phone, or listening to music, or talking to a friend, or walking a dog, or doing anything that might reduce your ability to avoid walking into something, or tripping over something. Or reduce your ability to avoid getting hit by a car driven by someone else who is distracted.

Lloyd Alter has a good breakdown of the AAOS’ message and what it means, but he missed the real story until it was pointed out by a reader:

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is a Diamond Supporter [of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons] (More than $200,000) directed to public relations, so it all falls into place.

It may be that the AAOS is genuinely concerned about pedestrian safety for the sake of pedestrians, but it would seem the promotion of this message is being driven by car makers, and so the message takes on a very different tone than you might expect from a medical association.


Here’s the Daily Mail: “‘Petextrians’ are risking their lives

In the absence of motor vehicles the worst injury a distracted walker might sustain will be a twisted ankle, minor head injury or scrapes and bruises. “Petextrians” aren’t “risking their lives” until you add distracted drivers to the mix.

And in this case, I don’t mean a driver who’s using a cell phone or reading a book, or doing make-up. I mean a driver who doesn’t notice a pedestrian about to step into their path, or a pedestrian who is already in the crosswalk (are drivers supposed to notice things like that? Yes, they are).

The message from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, via the AAOS, seems to be if you get hit by a car, you must have been distracted somehow or you would have gotten out of the way.

Police have picked up on this too:


Search twitter and the word “petextrian” first shows up in 2012, even though urban dictionary’s entry is dated 2009. But its use didn’t really take off until after August, 2015 when the Governors Highway Safety Association released a report titled “Everyone Walks” which was covered by ABC News.

This report includes 21 recommendations, including reducing speed limits where there’s a history of collisions with pedestrians, enacting a vulnerable road users law, establishing and promoting Safe Routes To Schools programs, using a Three 3E strategy of Education, Engineering and Enforcement to improve pedestrian safety and more.

I haven’t read through the whole report yet, but it sounds like a balanced approach. The coverage of the report certainly has not been balanced however, and this is not likely an accident.

The way this word, and the concept behind it has gained attention reminds me of the amazing true story of how “jay-walking” came into common use:

(and no, College Humor is not my only source on this, but it is the slickest)

So, as I see more and more finger-wagging from driving columnists and even calls for new laws from city councillors, I can’t help but think this is all according to plan.

From a post headlined, “What’s As Dangerous As Distracted Driving? Distracted Walking” (emphasis mine):

I have personally experienced a young pedestrian walking directly out in front of my car while they had earphones plugged in and iPod in hand. Luckily I was focused on my driving and noticed the teenager walking toward the curb in what was obviously a distracted manner. They had their head down looking at their device and made no visual check for traffic before stepping off the curb. There was no eye contact with me. Luckily for them and me, I had slowed in anticipation of their mistake.

There’s nothing “lucky” about what the author did to avoid injuring or killing this distracted teenager with their vehicle. They were doing what they’re supposed to do as a driver. They were aware of their surroundings and the actions of other road users. “Luck” had nothing to do with it.

Sending the message out there that distracted pedestrians are “as dangerous as distracted drivers” suggests that drivers don’t have to be as focused on the road as they need to be to avoid pedestrians. This column in particular attributes the pedestrian’s safety to “luck” rather than good driving habits.

And don’t forget: vision- and hearing-impaired pedestrians don’t need to use cell phones or listen to music to prevent them from “making eye contact” or hearing your vehicle approaching them.

Let’s just focus on being the best drivers we can be and anticipate others behavior instead of creating a paper tiger out of something we expect people to do.


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