Don’t forget who has the right of way on roads
A teenage pedestrian was struck and killed by a motorist near West Campus High School recently, and in the inevitable discussion after, I heard far too many expressions that boiled down to caveat emptor, with a subtext of “Teach kids to fear for their lives even when following the law as pedestrians; it’s solely their obligation.” This is leavened with “Damned pedestrians think they own the street: teach ’em they don’t.”
But the pedestrians do in fact own the street. So do you.
We all own the street, with a legal and moral right to safely use this public-commons resource. Motorists, motorcyclists, motor-scooter riders and bicyclists all have a unique responsibility, tied to their ability to travel very quickly. We are all required, by law, to only progress at a rate of travel which is safe for the conditions.
We are required to drive slowly enough to make a safe stop if a kid runs into the street, if another motorist stops short, or if a police cruiser pops out of an alley. There is not a legal right for motorists to progress quickly for their own convenience with little or no regard for others’ safety. There is not a legal right for motorists to have priority on the roads over pedestrians, bicyclists or any other vehicle. If a pedestrian crosses the street legally and safely and a motorist hits them, the motorist is squarely at fault, both legally and morally.
When the average motorist begins to understand, accept and act on the responsibility they have in driving—the safe use of the most deadly potential weapon most will ever own—without blaming the victims when the driver errs on the side of speed and convenience at the cost of someone else’s safety, only then will we see a marginal decrease in such incidents. When the typical police response to bicyclist and pedestrian deaths is no longer to blame the victims but rather to find the driver who is both responsible and legally culpable; when that driver is tried for manslaughter, reckless endangerment, reckless driving, gross negligence or other applicable charges; and when this gets publicized, that’s when we’ll see a really significant decrease in these kinds of incidents.
I’m looking forward to that day.