Distracted Walking Is A Myth – update.

Hello readers.

I saw the immediate aftermath of a bike rider getting hit by a driver one block from our house this weekend. The bike rider himself unbelievably seemed ok, and he said “I’m sorry…” but the driver had been far exceeding the local 25mph limit.

Why would even a bike rider himself take the blame for being hit by a driver? It’s a successful campaign by the auto industry to hijack American brains.

Let’s stop blaming pedestrians and bicyclists for their injuries and deaths.  Here’s the truth.

Why the ‘distracted pedestrian’ is a myth

This Curbed Article was written in 2018.  This is an update.

Victim blaming much?

It’s just easier, and it suits the industry to shift the responsibility for safety off the driver,  to take focus off humongous 9000lb vehicles, and away from infrastructure that is dangerous by design.

Place responsibility on the walker or on the person on a bike for their own safety. Done.

Truth: Drivers are killers. But hear me out…drivers themselves can’t be totally to blame…

Cell phones and gadgets which irresistibly distract drivers have contributed to soaring numbers of fatalities and injuries. Now cars like the 2021 Mercedes have huge dash screens, and other built-in distractions like “infotainment systems”, but car makers tell drivers to use them with caution, so oh yeah, we’re good.

Distracted driving that leads to injuries and death is a public health crisis. 

A Center for Disease Control updated study cited that one in every five people killed by distracted drivers was not in a vehicle — they were walking, riding a bike, or otherwise outside of a vehicle.

Texting while driving has been said to be as dangerous as driving drunk.”

But wow this is happening!  Automakers are starting to admit that drivers hate touch screens. Buttons are back!

For the past several years, huge SUVS and trucks are almost the only vehicles being built in America, so what’s a driver to do?  They’re marketed with features that protect people inside the vehicles, but everyone outside the vehicle is at risk. A walker hit by a driver of a Honda Civic will probably be injured, but maybe not killed. A person walking hit by the driver of a Ford F150 will be dead.

Roads are designed for speed. Most American traffic engineering designs roads to expedite traffic: Wide roads look and feel like landing strips, which invite, and encourage drivers to speed. It’s just what happens.


Polli Schildge Editor APCompleteStreets.org

Send your comments and share your email to: apcompletestreets@gmail.com


Better Streets. Less Victim Blaming.

Cities shouldn’t have to rely on “human sacrifice” to get more/better pedestrian infrastructure. “We’ve sort of come to accept these deaths as part of the background of our daily lives,” Angie Schmitt, editor at Streetsblog USA…” We’ve all been conditioned to believe that “cars (should) dominate streets above all other multimodal needs”. People walking and on bikes are routinely injured and killed, and drivers are only sometimes held accountable. If a case actually goes to court a jury will often sympathize with the driver who claims that the person “came out of nowhere”- “it could be me”.  With better street design, slowing traffic speeds, and fewer people owning cars, we may be on our way to having safer cities.  It won’t happen over night, and it will take strong advocacy to change the culture. 

Advocates urge less ‘victim-blaming,’ better street designs to reduce pedestrian deaths

Chris Teale August 8, 2018

“As cities try and make their streets safer for all users, especially with the likely increase in use of autonomous vehicles (AVs) in the coming years, investments in pedestrian infrastructure becomes paramount. And beyond the financial requirements, Schmitt said a “wider cultural bias” that cars dominate streets above all other multimodal needs must be addressed…”

Journalists Covering Car Crashes Absolve The Driver

The Columbia Journalism Review report explains how the media (and thereby police) fail to properly cover traffic collisions.


“A middle-aged man was fatally struck by a truck.” If we read traffic crash reporting articles more critically, we can see a pattern.  The report avoids naming the driver of the vehicle, or may not refer to any driver at all.  Very often the incident is described in terms that presuppose innocence on the part of the driver, with built-in excuses such as, “it was dark and the pedestrian was not wearing reflective clothing.”  This contributes to the worsening problem of traffic injuries and fatalities, and car culture: that roads were designed for and belong to cars.

When covering car crashes, be careful not to blame the victim

By Meg Dalton, APRIL 4, 2018

“She ran into traffic. He was wearing dark clothing. They didn’t use the crosswalk. In the aftermath of crashes between drivers and vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists, there’s a tendency to blame the victim. It’s just one way the media fails to properly cover traffic collisions, according to a new report from MacEwan University”

Read about it:



Rutgers Report: How Does Crash Reporting Influence The Reader?

Neglecting to name a driver of a vehicle, or to describe an incident with details of negligence on the part of the victim perpetuates car culture, and the increasing numbers  of traffic injuries and deaths of the most vulnerable road users.

Language and Perception matters.  What are crash report articles really saying?

“Inclusion or exclusion of an agent affects perception of
blame. Sentences with agents make the actions of the
perpetrator clear and reduce victim blaming.”


Kelcie Ralph | Rutgers
Evan Iacobucci | Rutgers
Calvin Thigpen | Lime
Tara Goddard | Texas A&M

“Around one fifth of the 37,000 annual traffic deaths in the United States are
bicyclists or pedestrians. Despite this figure, there is little public outcry about
these vulnerable road user (VRU) deaths. Media coverage has been shown to shape public perceptions in other fields, primarily by signaling which topics merit attention (agenda-setting) and by infuencing how those issues are
interpreted (framing). This study examines how local news outlets report car crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists.”

Read the report:

Editorial Patterns in Bicyclist and Pedestrian Crash Reporting

Media Absolves Drivers In Crash Reporting

Yesterday a tweet from a local newspaper article described a traffic fatality saying “a man was killed when struck by a truck.” The victim was named, with lots of background information, but nothing about the driver of the truck. There is a distinct presumption of innocence. This is typical reporting of most traffic incidents. The victim may also be  described as not wearing reflective clothing, not wearing a helmet, walking outside a crosswalk, “jaywalking” (Jaywalking was invented to make way for cars), not paying attention, or the worst excuses: “she came or of nowhere”, or “I didn’t see him”.

How Coverage of Pedestrian Fatalities Dehumanizes Victims and Absolves Drivers

A pedestrian rule breaker crossing outside of an intersection.

Use of passive voice

Press accounts tend to use the passive voice when describing traffic fatalities. As in, “A pedestrian was hit by a car.” Only three out of 71 articles used the active voice. How Coverage of Pedestrian Fatalities Dehumanizes Victims and Absolves Drivers

The passive voice “conveys subtle messages about blame and responsibility,” writes Magusin, “distancing the driver from the act.” And that affects the way people perceive events and assign culpability.