Actually, I do brake for people. But a part of me wishes that I could prominently display that statement–‘I don’t brake for people’–on my windshield.
Before you get angry and accuse me of being insensitive, let me say that I have the utmost respect and patience for pedestrians. You walk to get where you need to go? More power to you. I’ve spent plenty of extended periods of time in cities where I got around by foot or by bike. What I DON’T have patience for is jaywalking. As defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the verb ‘jaywalk’ means ‘to cross a street carelessly or in an illegal manner so as to be endangered by traffic.’
The heavily used phrase ‘pedestrians have the right of way’ seems to have taken on a brand new meaning, something more along the lines of ‘pedestrians have the right to walk wherever they want, whenever they want.’ As a responsible driver, I find that attitude unfair. In most accidents involving cars and pedestrians, the cars are almost always heavily penalized and fully blamed. But the fact remains that there are many irresponsible walkers out there. You come across them every day.
A person may jaywalk for various reasons. Maybe the busstop is halfway down the block, so he or she might dart into the middle of the road (often into oncoming greenlit traffic) to avoid having to walk all the way down to the intersection to cross the street properly. On a cynical-yet-undeniable note, there are people who do it because they have an utter disregard for rules and order. I’m also convinced that many people do it simply because they’re mentally unstable.
Some of the worst jaywalking offenders I see today are teenagers. Not that it’s totally their fault–this laziness and disregard for surroundings is virtually state-sanctioned. During the hours-long school speed zones that many cities have put in place near high schools, groups of teenagers around South Florida stroll through the streets at a snail’s pace, mostly at every spot other than the actual intersection. While driving slowly through these 15-mile-an-hour zones, I watch these kids as they meet up in the middle of the street, high-five each other in the middle of the street, hug each other in the middle of the street, shuffle songs on their iPods in the middle of the street, and tell each other jokes in the middle of the street.
Are you freakin’ kidding me? What happened to ‘look right, look left, and cross the intersection at a brisk pace?’ I knew how to do that by first grade! Today, thanks to these speed zones, adolescents who are plenty old enough to know and respect road safety rules now feel entitled to stroll leisurely across the street, maybe even pausing once or twice to pull their pants up (not exaggerating–I’ve hit the brakes a few times to avoid hitting Mr. Pants on the Ground). I frequently see young jaywalkers outside school speed zones now.
The most unacceptable jaywalking stunt? People crossing outside a crosswalk while they have kids in tow, or while pushing strollers. Endangering children in this manner is reckless. The most obnoxious jaywalking stunt? Running through the street outside a crosswalk dressed in black clothing from head to toe. At night.
I use the term jay-cycling to describe cyclists who commit the same offenses. Cyclists are supposed to follow almost all the same rules as drivers, but we all have seen a bike (or twenty) ignore these rules. On my daily drive to and from home, at least twice a day, I come across a cyclist who rides out against incoming traffic into the middle of the road. Reckless riding also takes on new heights in pedestrian cities where many cyclists work as couriers. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to slam on the brakes while driving through Washington DC to avoid hitting courier cyclists who are weaving through cars in traffic. Accidents involving bikes and cars are highly unfortunate, but if a cyclist decides to run his stop sign or his red light because he feels the rules of the road don’t apply to him, is it fair to pour all the blame and seething hatred on the car?
I’m a calm and conscientious driver. I rarely speed because I don’t think the hassle of an auto accident or the risk of bodily injury is worth it. I acknowledge that there are a LOT of bad drivers out there–aggressive drivers with road rage, dense drivers who probably never should have been awarded a driver license in the first place, and your run-of-the-mill douchebag driver who thinks his commute is an audition for a role in the next Fast and Furious flick. But there are rules for cars, rules for pedestrians and rules for cyclists; we all have to do our part.
Pros of jaywalking? It saves you walking a few steps. Cons of jaywalking? It’s dangerous; it’s inconsiderate; and frankly it’s stupid. After all, when it comes down to Human Body versus Two-Ton Vehicle, the human body doesn’t stand a chance. Drivers ought to take every precaution at all times. And walkers ought to be aware that when they cross the street outside the crosswalk, they take a big risk. Crosswalks exist for a reason.
So if you’re thinking about jaywalking across the street when I’m driving…please don’t. It’s not that I think I have any more of a right to be on the road than you do–it’s just that as the driver behind the wheel of a 3,500-pound wad of metal, I carry the unique obligation of being responsible for both my own safety AND yours. Let’s play fair now–I don’t run my red lights, so don’t run yours. That is all.
Top photo: “YEAH!” by Sugarfrizz
Middle photo: “Leisurely Jaywalking” by Rocksee
Bottom photo: “Jaywalking” by Edu Alarcon