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Why do pedestrians play high-stakes ‘chicken’ with cars?

Published September 17, 2012


We all have our part to do in keeping pedestrians safe, but why do some pedestrians insist on playing high-stakes “chicken” with vehicles rather than playing it safe?

No one wants to blame the victim when a collision occurs, but those who cross against red lights, outside of crosswalks, or dart out from behind parked/stopped vehicles or other visual obstructions are willfully placing themselves at great risk.

Personally, I had a terrifying near-miss with a pedestrian ignoring basic road safety rules many years ago. I was approaching a green light at an intersection. There were cars in the left turn lane, I was in the thru-lane, and there was a stopped TTC bus in the right lane.

As I drove past the bus at 60 km/h, a pedestrian popped out from in front of the bus. I stomped the brakes, of course, but in that split-second before impact, I came to the heart-stopping realization that with traffic on both sides I had nowhere to go and would be forced to hit the pedestrian if he continued on.

Fortunately for both of us, this individual, who apparently was rushing to catch another bus on the intersecting road, was able to stop short of my path – and lived to tell the tale of his brush with death. He might have missed that connecting bus, but at least he was still around to catch the next one.

Another great mystery of mankind I have trouble understanding is pedestrians who cross mid-block and, upon seeing your fast-approaching motor vehicle, aggressively run to place their frail, unprotected bodies directly in your path. If that weren’t risky enough, the part that befuddles me is that these persons will only rush (even when cutting across all oncoming lanes on your left) until they are smack dab in the middle of your lane, then they slow down and saunter the last few steps.

Is it our nature that humans only work as hard as we need to, so these individuals feel no need to keep rushing until they are completely out of harm’s way? Or, is it a case of self-centered arrogance in thinking that vehicles must slow down once the “invincible me” occupies the lane.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I do know that not all drivers play by those rules. And, if you’re a pedestrian who gets hit, it’s all moot because then the laws of physics take over – and those rules are unwavering.

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