The Fresno Bee ran a sad story today about a mother and her daughter being hit by a motorist driving a pickup truck while crossing the road on the way to school. A vehicle in one lane had stopped to let the two cross and the other driver decided to ignore that and continue past the stopped vehicle, hitting them. The daughter is ok, the mother is in the hospital.
Many things can be said about the story, but this is what caught my eye:
The driver was eastbound on Clinton Avenue as the woman and the girl
were in an unmarked crosswalk walking to the north side of the street.
I don’t know if it was the reporter, Jim Guy who noted this, or if it was brought to his attention by Police Sgt. Anthony Dewall who was interviewed for the article but….
Not enough people understand that in California, an unmarked crosswalk exists at every single intersection and has the same legal standing as a marked one. That is, the pedestrian has the right of way, and the vehicles must stop.
Noting the law doesn’t change the unfortunate collision, but it DOES affect perception. And that actually means a lot.
When a pedestrian is hit, and an article is published, it seems like there exists a rule which demands that crosswalk status be mentioned. Driver speed? Who cares. Road design? Not relevant. Motorists being distracted? Not news. But were the pedestrians inside the magical crosswalk? That is key. No pedestrian injury story can be written without including a line about the crosswalk.
It’s like how every bike collision story MUST include reference to a helmet (or lack of).
Personally, I don’t get it. In many ways, focusing on helmets and crosswalks but not things like speed and driver distraction simply helps to toss blame towards the victim. It doesn’t matter if it’s not the intention of the reporter, it’s the result.
Take the following example.
1) “A mother and child were hit by a pickup truck today. They were not in the crosswalk”
Reaction: It’s all their fault! How dare they! Idiots! They had it coming!
Once that’s put in the story, it’s like it becomes the only variable. Does it matter if the motorist was speeding? No. Does it matter that in California, if the closest intersection is unsignalized, a pedestrian may cross at any point? No. The victims must be blamed. If only they’d been inside the magical unmarked crosswalk, only then would everything be ok.
2) “A mother and child were hit by a pickup truck today. It was unclear if they were in a crosswalk”
Reaction: They probably were jaywalking! I see it all the time! They had it coming!
Just by implying that they MAY have been breaking the law, blame is placed on them, even though the motorist may have actually been breaking the law by speeding or doing something else.
3) “A mother and child were hit by a pickup truck today. They were in the crosswalk”
Reaction: Motorists need to me more careful!
In this case, by stating the facts as 3, instead of what they usually do as in 2, makes a huge difference in how the case is perceived.
So that is good to see.
Of course, imagine if newspapers used the same “question” technique on motorists that they do usually with pedestrians:
4) “A mother and child were hit by a pickup truck
today. They were in the crosswalk. It was unclear if the motorist had
been speeding recklessly or texting at the time”
Reaction: Lynch him now! Death is not good enough for this criminal!
Like questioning the status of the crosswalk, questioning the drivers’ actions isn’t actually blaming him for that stuff, but implying it may have happened is strong enough.
It’s also good to see the police acknowledge it was the motorist who should get the blame. many times, you see “the victims should have been paying more attention!”
Police Sgt. Anthony Dewall said the driver, who has not been identified,
could have avoided running into the woman had he been more attentive.
“When another vehicle is stopped, it should bring some attention to you as to why the other vehicle is stopped,” he said.
Dewall said the driver would be cited for not stopping as well as being unlicensed. His truck will also be impounded.