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  1. Peter Jacobsen
  1. PO Box 712433 Los Angeles, CA90071-7433, USA

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A recurring theme among pedestrian advocates is the lack of anger at pedestrian injuries, and the tendency to blame the victim, especially children, for their injuries. Sally Flocks reported on a 4 year old killed on an Atlanta residential street. The child was struck by a police officer speeding at 45 mph for no apparent reason. (The officer has been charged with vehicular homicide.) Two years ago, the neighborhood requested traffic calming for that particular street but the City turned them down. Curiously, the mayor said at the funeral “in many ways, this is the worst kind of tragedy, because we have no one to be angry with”. Sally said that before the mayor's comments, she had two places to target her anger, but now she has three. Mike Mott suggested a fourth target for Sally's anger—“NHTSA, that spends millions to protect those inside a vehicle and nothing to protect those outside the vehicle”.

While that comment may be a slight exaggeration, the US government policy toward child pedestrian injuries appears to focus on altering the child's behavior. PEDNETers posted the Secretary of Transportation, Rodney Slater's speech before the National Pedestrian Conference. In it, he talked about his own 4 year old. He relayed how he teaches her to “stop, look, and listen” before crossing a street. PEDNETers are well aware that this form of intervention will be no more successful that it was in Atlanta. They know the limits in cognitive and physical development of children and realize the futility of expecting a 4 year old to “stop, look, and listen,”.

A shift in public policy may be forthcoming. PEDNETers discussed a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report on Halloween child pedestrian injuries.1 (In the US children walk door-to-door asking for candy.) The CDC noted the injury rate quadruples on that day and discussed the developmental limits of children in dealing with traffic. However, even after saying kids are not ready for the demands of traffic, six of the CDCs eight “Safety Tips for Halloween” were aimed at altering children's behavior (for example “Children should cross streets at the corner...”). Only one was aimed at motorist's behavior (“Motorists should drive slowly...”). Although the CDC report received media attention, the safety tips were reported without the discussion of the limits of trying to adapt children to traffic's requirements.

From a pedestrian advocate's point of view, this myopic focus on the victim seems unique to and endemic in efforts to eliminate motor vehicle related injuries. For starters, even the classification of motor vehicle injuries separates by the activity of the victim. (It s hard to imagine gunfire injuries separated by the victim's action—if the victim was smoking when shot, would it be a tobacco injury?) If a child is hit by a car mid-block on a residential street while walking, the injury is classified “pedestrian”. If that child is bicycling, the injury is classified “bicycle related”. In both bases, the collision results from a child playing in or crossing a street, while simultaneously a motorist traverses the street. Both are legal actions, but a victim focus results in these collisions being termed “dart out”. Any disinterested party would recognize that the motorist, not the child, is the party going too fast for the situation. Yet injury control efforts too often address only the victim. Victim orientated classifications obscure the actions (and responsibilities) of the agent in the injury, the motorist.

Splitting the injuries by the action of the victim also obscures the relative magnitude of the injuries. While motor vehicle related injuries are the leading cause of death for children in most countries, many, if not most of the injuries occur outside of the car. Splitting the “child struck by motor vehicle” injuries by the action of the child results in prevention programs misdirecting their efforts. Pedestrian advocates believe much more effort is needed in making the streets safe for children.