TWICE in the past fortnight the same woman pedestrian has put me at risk of serious harm as I drove my wife’s four-wheel-drive to work. You’ll be thinking now that it can hardly be a contest, a flesh-and-blood pedestrian of less than 100 kilograms and a bullbar-armed vehicle of 2.5 tonnes, but in a collision it is the driver who will be charged, and so strong is the assumption of driver guilt that the driver is effectively left to prove his or her innocence.
Both incidents occurred at the intersection of King St and Perkins St at the same time, and so I assume the woman, aged in her late 20s, was doing the same thing I was, going to work.
In the first she was clutching a mobile phone to her left ear as she moved briskly past the corner of the building at the bottom of the Perkins St hill and thus became suddenly visible to drivers travelling east. Within two or three seconds she was on the pedestrian crossing and moving just as briskly. The problem was that she didn’t pause at the kerb to look left and right and at the same time give drivers an opportunity to stop safely or proceed if they couldn’t stop safely. I knew instinctively that the risk of the vehicle behind me ramming into the rear of mine was high if I stopped, and so I drove through the crossing while she was on it.
Had, though, she pulled the same stunt on the other side of the road, on my side of the road, the result may have been different. I’d have braked as hard as I could and as hard as ABS allows, and it is more likely than not that the car behind would have hit my rear, or I’d have just got through the crossing without hitting her, or I’d have hit her. Had I hit her I’d have been charged, and I’d have spent tens of thousands trying to establish that I had little choice, then I may well have been jailed.
On Tuesday she did exactly the same thing, only this time she didn’t have a phone to her ear. She didn’t pause, she didn’t look, and I was driving behind the driver who, unlike me a week earlier, stopped. Perhaps because I had a sense of what was to happen, I started stopping before the leading driver.
Yes, I know, drivers should approach every pedestrian crossing on the basis that someone is about to step on it, but when there is no-one in sight drivers can be excused for believing no-one is about to step onto the crossing. So many pedestrians believe not only that they are carproof on the road, but that they are without a responsibility to contribute to their own safety. In shopping strips, especially those with a 40 km/h limit, they stride without pause from between parked cars to cross the road when a crossing is nearby, they cross against a red pedestrian light and abuse the driver who proceeds through the intersection on the green, they forsake the footpath or nature strip to walk along the side of the road, and at night they walk on the road in dark clothing that can render them almost invisible.
Should a driver carry all the responsibility for pedestrian safety? As drivers we have a responsibility, in a legal and every other sense, to use the road in such a way that we don’t endanger anyone, and I believe pedestrians, who are road users with a capacity to imperil others, should have the same responsibility. If a driver can be charged with failing to stop at a pedestrian crossing, should not a pedestrian who steps onto a crossing without looking or pausing be charged with using a pedestrian crossing recklessly?
NSW Road Rule 81 says ‘‘a driver must give way to any pedestrian on a pedestrian crossing’’ and rule 236 says ‘‘a pedestrian must not cause a traffic hazard by moving into the path of a driver’’, so if a car and a pedestrian collide the driver has breached rule 81 and the pedestrian has breached rule 236. If it were spelt out more clearly that pedestrians should not move onto a crossing until nearby vehicles have stopped, responsibility for every road user’s safety would be shared more fairly.
Do you accept that pedestrians should be saddled with more responsibility for their own safety?