The C. is for Crank

In an above-the-fold front-pager sensationally headlined, "Dangerous Distraction: Study Finds Many Texting Pedestrians," the Seattle Times argues that pedestrians "distracted" by cell phones, pets, and paying attention to their own children—are to blame when drivers run into them.

That conclusion is based on a study that found that people who were observed texting, talking on a cell phone, or walking with pets or children were less likely to follow three specific safety steps: Looking both ways, obeying the lights, and crossing at the appropriate point. The study does not, however, include any specific data linking those behaviors to collisions.

Not that that little detail is enough to stop the Times from extrapolating. I'm just going to start with the actual first sentence, because nothing could express the Times' us (drivers) vs. them (pedestrians/bicyclists/wheelchair users) mentality more effectively: 

"Like zombies, they walk among us, texting, checking emails, talking, selecting music—and, according to a study published Wednesday, oblivious to cars, trucks, lights, crosswalks and the concentration required to get through urban intersections alive."

Wandering into the middle of the road while texting is obviously a dumb idea. But it doesn't happen very often. And neither the new study nor SDOT's statistics remotely justify a front-page scaremongering story blaming pedestrians for getting themselves hit by cars.

Look, I get that it's important to watch out for cars; "look both ways before you cross the street" is one of the first things we learn as kindergartners.

But the facts themselves show that drivers, not pedestrians, are mostly to blame for car-pedestrian collisions.

Take the very Seattle Department of Transportation report cited in the Times story. It concluded that the overwhelming majority of car-pedestrian collisions were caused by drivers failing to grant the right-of-way to pedestrians, ignoring traffic signals, or being "inattentive" while driving. Those three factors alone accounted for 275 of 346 car-pedestrian collisions for which SDOT recorded contributing factors in 2010.

Meanwhile, just seven pedestrian-car collisions were attributed to "inattention" on the part of the pedestrian.

Wandering into the middle of the road while texting is obviously a dumb idea. But it doesn't happen very often. And neither the new study nor SDOT's statistics remotely justify a front-page scaremongering story blaming pedestrians for getting themselves hit by cars.

(Also in today's Times, an unrelated story, "Protruding Metro bus 'bulbs' work, but at the expense of drivers," argues that the new on-street stops along Metro's new RapidRide lines, which reduce bus delays by allowing buses to stop on the street instead of pulling in and out of traffic, have "provoked" drivers into speeding around buses and swerving into oncoming traffic. So, in sum: Pedestrians hit by cars in intersections were asking for it. Drivers who speed into oncoming traffic? That's someone else's fault.)