Awful Pedestrian Shaming Campaign Gets the Smackdown It Deserves

Montgomery County, Maryland, used this ill-considered poster to blame pedestrians who are hit by cars. Photo: Montgomery County
Montgomery County, Maryland, thought this was a good public safety message. Photo: Montgomery County

This PSA from Montgomery County, Maryland, has got to be one of the all-time worst examples of pedestrian shaming. The young girl with tire treads across her face, it’s implied, was struck and killed by a driver because she was “wearing black.”

The message was the county’s response to two recent pedestrian fatalities. According to the county, police will be ticketing drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists who break laws. The victim-blaming posters combined with the everyone-gets-fined approach to enforcement tells us this “safety campaign” won’t make pedestrians any safer.

On Twitter, Colin Browne succinctly summed up what’s wrong with Montgomery County’s approach:

Can Montgomery County replace its campaign imagery with Colin’s version?

  • Fred Campbell

    Pedestrian shaming? Give me break me break. Yeah you can wear whatever doesn’t change the fact dark clothing at night you harder to see and it’s certainly something that I try to avoid doing if I’m riding at night

  • jd_x

    It’s problematic because they are doing this *instead* of addressing the root cause, which is dangerous roads that prioritize motorist convenience over the safety of all others. Sure, pedestrians could light themselves up like Christmas trees, but the fundamental problem here is that is not the *root* cause and when you address it at the expense of the root cause, then you are victim blaming.

  • Joe Linton

    Last time I checked dark clothing was still legal in much of these United States

  • Jason

    Your “instead of” point is really the crux of this. If you’re trying to fix the problem, and advise people in the meantime to try to think about being visible, that’s one thing. It’s quite another thing if leave it at “well you shouldn’t have been wearing dark clothes at night” and do nothing to address driver end of things.

  • Jacob Wilson

    Things that automobiles have taken from us:

    1. Vibrant streets
    2. Vast swaths of land as parking
    3. The environment
    4. Public health
    And now….
    5. FASHION!

  • dawdler

    It’s an inadequate response. Victim shaming? I don’t know about that.

  • Larry Leveen

    NHTSA says light-colored clothing isn’t very helpful. p.8 – 34. I think it’s about being massive enough for a motorist to see. How about safety illumination, narrow/safer crossings and lower vehicle speeds for greater reaction time AND less deadlier results when collisions DO occur.

  • davistrain

    Perhaps if everyone who walked at night in poorly lighted locations wore high-visibility garments like construction and railroad workers it would point up the fact that some pedestrian areas are as hazardous as job sites and train yards. Whether that would “shame” the powers that be into restricting automobile and truck traffic and requiring lower speeds would be the next question.

  • Light-colored clothing isn’t helpful, but reflective clothing is.

  • SDGreg

    It’s not harder to see if streets aren’t horribly designed with inadequate lighting.

  • SDGreg

    If I’m going to be forced to wear reflective clothing because of dangerous street design, there’s going to be a really rude message visible within it.

  • Leo

    As a resident of Montgomery County and a student at Montgomery County Public Schools, it continues to shock me that a county that tries to encourage higher densities and public transportation runs these ads, which are usually placed in schools and at bus shelters. All this does is show suburban teens, who already consider walking, biking, and public transportation an option for those without a car, that they are dangerous activities that should be avoided at all cost. In addition, it doesn’t teach them, the demographic with the highest risk of getting into a car accident, that pedestrians need to be respected on the road.

  • 503F

    Agree. And If the hazard to persons from walking dictates that they ought dress like construction workers in high hazard areas. Then traffic fines ought to double everywhere, the same way they do in work areas.

  • Pete

    True, especially when drivers are using headlights, paying attention, and going an appropriate speed to allow safe response. Ironically my most reflective clothing is black, which I’m sure the police report will note when I get run down:


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