Pedestrians injured by cars: whose fault is it?

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      On a quiet, sunny Friday morning in September 2012, Jodi Derkson got up early to take her dog for a walk. The founder of Imperative Education, which offers antibullying strategies, saw a vehicle halted at a stop sign before she went to cross a street near her East Vancouver home. She wasn’t expecting her life to take a drastic turn the next instant.

      “There was a car facing me at the stop sign, and since she was stopped, I figured it was safe to go,” Derkson tells the Georgia Straight. “Suddenly, I felt a car—an SUV—hit my leg and take me down.…I tried standing but my leg slipped out from under me.”

      In hospital, Derkson learned she’d sustained a fracture in her tibial plateau, by the knee, meaning her alignment, stability, and motion were all severely affected. The injury puts her at increased risk of osteoarthritis, and she’s still struggling with the incident’s emotional impact.

      “I was on crutches for two months; I’ve been in rehabilitation ever since. My back hurts at times, I needed my teeth fixed, and I am dealing with fear,” Derkson says. “Now when I cross any street, I simply do not trust that drivers will stop. It is scary.”

      Derkson is one of the approximately 2,300 pedestrians in B.C. who are injured by cars every year. According to the City of Vancouver’s 2012 Pedestrian Safety Study, the annual pedestrian collision rate has been steadily declining since 1996.

      Statistics from the Vancouver Police Department indicate that the number of pedestrians being killed by cars is also on a downward trend. But pedestrian activists say that these figures don’t give an accurate picture of what’s happening on our roads.

      “There are fewer dying not because drivers are behaving better but because we have better critical care,” says Bev Ballantyne, cofounder of a group called Putting Pedestrians First, in a phone interview. “They end up either quadriplegic, paraplegic, or have serious head injuries, but we never hear about that.”

      Political-science professor Anthony Perl, director of the urban-studies program at Simon Fraser University, says that the provincial push to build more roads encourages people from the suburbs to drive into Vancouver instead of taking public transit, while within the city itself, more people are travelling by foot or bike. According to him, it’s a deadly combination.

      “When people start getting mowed down regularly, it’s an alarm bell,” Perl says in a phone interview. “There should be a red light blinking somewhere on the city’s planning, traffic, and transportation departments and on city council that there’s a problem here and we need to do more about it. Otherwise, there’s going to be more carnage.”

      According to the VPD, nine pedestrians were fatally struck by vehicles in 2011, compared to 14 in 2007 and 20 in 2005. Certain spots in the city are especially dangerous. Based on car-pedestrian incidents between 2008 and 2012, ICBC identified the five worst intersections as Main and East Hastings streets, Commercial Drive and East Broadway, Main and Terminal Avenue, Nanaimo Street and East Broadway, and Burrard and Davie streets. (The speed limit on a section of Hastings near Main was reduced to 30 kilometres per hour in 2011 in response to so many fatalities in the area.)

      The VPD’s PedWatch website states that the actions of pedestrians themselves were the primary causal factor in about half of the incidents reported to police between 2005 and 2009.

      “It is imperative that pedestrians realize their actions may be putting them at risk,” the site says.

      Ballantyne doesn’t buy it, saying that the 50-percent figure is a “blatant lie”. She blames pedestrian hits on two factors: lack of enforcement and driver attitude.

      “Until the penalties are increased, until they actually mean something, education is a waste of time,” Ballantyne says. “What makes a difference is penalties. In certain countries in Europe, if you’re stopped for a traffic violation, the cop pulls up your income tax and you’re fined based on your income. A $100 ticket doesn’t make a difference. Someone driving an Escalade can chalk up a whole bunch of $100 tickets. But if you charge him $10,000, it might change his behaviours.”

      Another reason pedestrians end up getting struck, she says, is drivers’ sense of entitlement.

      “Drivers are bullies, and they are encased in metal,” she says. “They’re saying, ‘I’m big; I can run you over, and you’d better stay out of my way.’ That’s their mentality. They think their mission is paramount and somehow people who walk have less status in the world, so whatever we’re doing is way less important than whatever they’re doing.”

      Ballantyne and Perl both say they applaud the City of Vancouver for improving infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians but that there’s still much more to be done to keep them safe.

      “We need to think about best practices and look to places like Portland [Oregon], by expanding infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists and making sure relationships between them and between them and cars are carefully managed,” Perl says. “I still feel Vancouver needs a pedestrian advocate. There still isn’t a point person to be the focus for that. It would help the ‘feet first’ strategy to succeed because they’d be at the table.”

      PedWatch advises pedestrians to use designated crosswalks, obey traffic signals, make eye contact with approaching drivers and cyclists, and never assume drivers see you. It urges drivers to make eye contact as well, to yield to pedestrians on the roadway, to watch for pedestrians at intersections (especially when making left and right turns), and to obey traffic signals.

      Derkson, meanwhile, just wishes that drivers would do a couple of things differently. “Stop at the stop sign, not two feet past it,” she says. “When someone is walking in front of your car, brake. Do not simply roll slowly until they cross. Having been hit by a car, I cannot tell you how petrifying that is to me now.”



      People should PAY ATTENTION

      Nov 13, 2013 at 1:35pm

      Pedestrians often have a sense of entitlement to having the right of way, in all circumstances. They feel that they will not be "at fault" if they are hit. Whether this is the case or not, DOES IT MATTER at the end of the day if the pedestrian had the right of way when they were hit? Is it worth the injury and recovery (best case scenario). I have an Occupational Therapist friend who works with permanently disabled patients, who were found to have the right of way, but whose settlements have long since run out as they need constant, permanent care.

      Cars, pedestrians, bikers. Stop blaming others, and pay attention!!
      I walk to/from work every day and REGULARLY (aka, all the time) see pedestrians on their phones, having no idea what they are doing. They will step off the curb, in full confidence/expectation that cars will stop for them. They will cross at a red light when there is less than 1 second left before it turns red.
      We can't always blame JUST the cars. (although yes, there are TONS of terrible drivers in Vancouver/LM but that's a whole other comment)


      Nov 13, 2013 at 4:25pm

      Every single accident that involves a serious injury or fatality needs to be investigated as possible criminal negligence. There's way too much lenience on the part of the police. In cases where the driver is found at fault and someone died, a charge of criminally negligent manslaughter should be *automatic*, no exceptions.

      Check out the difference in how a child killed by a driver is treated in the US, vs the Netherlands:


      Nov 13, 2013 at 7:34pm

      Like your mother told you. Look BOTH ways. I never cross a street unless I am sure I know what the cars are doing. Period!


      Nov 14, 2013 at 8:58am

      Please explain this to me.

      You write "According to the City of Vancouver’s 2012 Pedestrian Safety Study, the annual pedestrian collision rate has been steadily declining since 1996"

      Yes some how you write "pedestrian activists say that these figures don’t give an accurate picture of what’s happening on our roads" because according to them "there are fewer dying not because drivers are behaving better but because we have better critical care"

      THIS MAKES NO SENSE! How can better critical care contribute to a downward trend since 1996 in pedestrian collision rates?

      A downward trend in collision rates since 1996 means the issue is getting better. There is no other way to look at it.


      Nov 14, 2013 at 10:02am


      Road fatalities have been declining sharply since about 2006 in most western countries. So has road-km driven. It started a few years before the recession. Something in western cultural turned a corner around then, after gathering momentum since about 1988 (from that year the rate of increase of driving steadily dropped, until it became an ever-faster decrease).

      The drop in injuries/fatalities has been much faster than the drop in driving though. That may be explained by the fact that the rate of young people getting drivers licenses dropped by around 1/3, even in the USA.


      Nov 14, 2013 at 10:00pm

      Do you live near a school? Ever notice the near- carnage that takes place every weekday at 8:30am and 3pm each day? It's hair-raising. Women in super-sized SUVs driving through occupied cross-walks, running stop signs and all vying to get as close to the school as possible to drop offer pick-up their precious package. All the while, the poor children who walk to school are in danger of loosing their lives. And sometimes they do - at the hands of someone else's mother.

      Ballantyne is right: drivers are bullies - especially those that prefer a variation of the troop transport vehicle as their daily driver. Canada seriously needs to beef up it's criminal law when it comes to death by vehicle. In the United States it's criminal manslaughter if you are found negligent in a pedestrian's death. Here, it's just oops! So sorry!


      Nov 15, 2013 at 9:27am

      This article immediately makes me think of Commercial Drive where the normative pedestrian obliviously saunters across red lights, often with a baby carriage.

      But yes in general the responsibility lies with the person driving the deadly device.

      I still see people texting and driving all the time - where is this oppressive police state I keep reading about???


      Nov 16, 2013 at 8:41pm

      I saw the headline of this article and initially thought to myself "Hey finally an article that is going to discuss the responsibility of pedestrians in protecting their own well being". Well, unfortunately, the idea that Pedestrians should start paying more attention and not believe that the fact they have the right of way somehow creates a force field around them that will protect them from death and dismemberment. News flash - it won't. In the old days as kids, we were taught to "stop, wait, look and listen" and only then proceed. I was particularly dismayed by Ballentyne's comments. What planet does she live on? I believe that VPD's points about the part played by Pedestrians is very valid and for her to deny this demonstrates she is delusional. She speaks of the driver's sense of entitlement. While I am the first to admit that there are some absolute terrible drivers on the road today, I also note hat there are many pedestrians that feel and demonstrate the same sense of entitlement. We often speak of defensive driving and it is time to speak of defensive walking. As a pedestrian, you owe it to yourself to lower the volume on your music device and stop texting while walking across the road. While some of the pedestrian accidents are terrible and I feel incredible empathy for the individuals involved (and their families), I can't help but believe that some of these would have been avoided with a little bit of defensive walking. Yes, I agree, you shouldn't need to and drivers should understand their responsibility but let's face it, a pedestrian is mere flesh and bone - no match for a ton of metal. As another individual said, EVERYONE needs to pay more attention but to release the pedestrian from any responsibility is dangerous. One way of "putting pedestrians first" is to encourage them to take responsibility for their own destiny. By the way, I am not saying that heavy fines do not have their place as well.

      Bruce Dean

      Nov 17, 2013 at 8:49am

      Pathetic title to the article.

      Did the editor previously work for the Star or the National Enquirer?

      The Netherlands and Denmark have a law of ‘strict liability’ to protect vulnerable road users from more powerful road users. Under this law, in crashes involving vulnerable road users, unless it can be clearly proven that the vulnerable road user was at fault, the more powerful road user is found liable by default. This makes Dutch and Danish drivers more cautious around cyclists and pedestrians and is responsible for their safe roads.

      Pete Tuan

      Nov 18, 2013 at 3:46pm

      Bev Ballantyne is CLEARLY misinformed is she believes that for the most part people in cars are DELIBERATELY trying to run at pedestrians.
      It is FAR easier for a pedestrian to notice a car coming their way and to stop than it is for a car to notice (while already in motion) a pedestrian and then to stop. Often it is not because we do not WANT to stop - it's that we CAN'T stop the 400 lb machine in time because a pedestrian has walked into the street WITHOUT looking to make sure it is clear and instead walks out without due care because they "have the right of way" Bev - take a look around you and ask yourself the question " did the pedestrian use due care and attention BEFORE processing out?" or did they walk out because they felt entitled - a LOT easier to stop yourself from walking out than to stop a car in the rain or at the lats minute at someone walking onto the street - physics deal lady - you probably skipped that lesson at school…...