Get Ready for More PSAs Blaming Traffic Violence Victims for “Drunk Walking”

American transportation safety officials are seriously trying to argue that drunk pedestrians, not roads like this, are the problem. Photo: Transportation for America
American transportation safety officials are seriously trying to argue that drunk pedestrians, not roads like this, are the problem. Photo: Transportation for America

The alarming increase in pedestrian deaths should be a wake up call for transportation officials — the status quo approach to traffic safety is failing the most vulnerable people on our streets. Instead we’re getting warmed over versions of the same old victim-blaming messages.

This week, the Governors Highway Safety Association issued a press release telling state DOTs that instead of telling people not to drink and drive, they should tell everyone, including pedestrians and cyclists, not to drink and go anywhere.

Under the heading, “With Pedestrian Deaths Surging in 2016, Now is the Time for Action,” the GHSA instructs state DOTs to include messages encouraging “bicyclists and pedestrians to consider safer transportation alternatives after heavy drinking” because “ratios of fatally injured alcohol-impaired bicyclists and pedestrians have not fallen as dramatically as the proportion of impaired motor vehicle drivers killed.”

Is this really the best message the GHSA could come up with? Are there any public safety success stories GHSA can point to that used this strategy? Does any evidence suggest that Americans are killed in traffic at such high rates because we’re drunker than people in the United Kingdom or Germany?

Being drunk, just like being a sober pedestrian or cyclist, is only a hazard when you’re on streets with motor vehicle traffic traveling at lethal speeds. Victim-blaming messages like this won’t make people safer — they just give the transportation safety establishment cover for its own failure to reduce pedestrian fatalities.

Places that have successfully reduced traffic fatalities focus on curbing motor vehicle speeds in areas where people walk and providing travel options that reduce driving. In short, they target risk factors in the transportation system that endanger pedestrians, so if someone makes a mistake while walking, it’s not a fatal one.

Pedestrian-shaming PSAs will only further marginalize people on foot while ignoring the root causes of the risks they face.

  • war_on_hugs

    ratios of fatally injured alcohol-impaired bicyclists and pedestrians have not fallen as dramatically as the proportion of impaired motor vehicle drivers killed.

    In other words: Even though the proportion of impaired pedestrians/cyclists hasgone down, safety features in cars have resulted in drunk drivers being killed less often.

    Plus, the proportion of impaired drivers (32%) is about the same as pedestrians (35%) and way more than cyclists (21%), but of course drunk drivers are a much greater danger to themselves and others. Pretty ridiculous to compare behavior while operating a two-ton machine to walking or cycling.

    Also, there’s no analysis of whether getting a (sober) ride or taxi home is actually safer, overall. In places where walking is dangerous, it’s likely that such a ride would take place at high speeds. Or, imagine the difference between walking a few blocks to crash at a friend’s house vs. taking a taxi a longer distance home. It could actually be more dangerous to give the impression that pedestrians are always at some additional risk compared to vehicle passengers.

  • There’s also a false equivalence in what level of blood alcohol is considered “impaired.” Given the complexity and danger of piloting a high-speed vehicle, unsafe levels of alcohol are necessarily lower for driving than for walking safely. It’s ridiculous to assume that being unsafe to drive at 0.08 blood alcohol makes it unsafe to walk at that same level.

  • PFT Future

    Its crazy to me as a transportation professional that this is what they come up with as an idea on how to improve safety, it would be laughable if it wasn’t so scary that the people at some of the highest positions either fail to understand transportation safety issues or refuse to acknowledge them for some reason.

    These people have no concern for safety of cyclist and pedestrians, just look at this groups sponsors car insurance companies, vehicle manufacturing companies and AAA. Is it a wonder that they want to place more blame on pedestrians and not people in the cars or the road design that favors speed and throughput over safety.

    Do they ever wonder why in Europe why there are less pedestrian deaths? In talking to my European friends its certainly not because they drink less or take rideshare more.

  • gneiss

    This is just another attempt by traffic engineers and their political enablers who don’t want to see speeding reduced on our streets to pass the buck to the most vulnerable users of of transportation network.

    If they really wanted to protect people, they would work to slow down cars rather than engage in this blatant victim blaming.

  • Brandon

    I notice that engineers will try to label things ‘user error’ as often as possible and say its not their problem. If they can find any excuse for a accident being the pedestrians own fault they can deflect blame. And politicians are more likely to listen to an engineer than a planner. and planners are often scared to speak up on road design because they don’t want to be seen as overstepping their bounds.

  • Brandon

    Speeding is seen as the driver disobeying the law. its completely the drivers fault. its still not widely understood by many engineers and certainly not by politicians that road design affects speed. And they see a pedestrian in the roadway as the pedestrians own fault.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Another idea would be to allow bars in residential areas or near train stations only, so people can get home more easily-

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