Once upon a time in a land called America, schoolchildren were taught how to cross the street by their parents or their older siblings. Red light means the cars stop, and green light means the cars go. Pedestrians were not so confused by basic traffic etiquette.
Wait for the red light and make sure the cars have stopped, look both ways, carefully cross the street. For decades, first graders across the nation successfully crossed the street without tens of thousands of dollars worth of flashing lights and annoying beeping and counting and pictures of a cute little walking man at every stinking intersection.
Those early pedestrians understood that the cars were bigger than they were, and that they needed to pay attention to the traffic and what was going on around them; a grasp on reality that many of today’s pedestrians have not yet achieved.
As more and more laws are enacted on the pedestrian’s behalf giving him the ‘right of way’, fewer and fewer pedestrians are taught what the right of way is or how it works. The phrase itself is frequently reduced to a weapon, something righteous for disgruntled have-nots to hold on to and disparagingly yell at those they perceive to be the haves.
Being granted the right of way means the legal right of one entity to proceed with precedence over others in a particular situation or place.
Here are some things that having the right of way does not mean:
- It does not mean that cars can’t crush you and bikes can’t run you down and that you are invulnerable.
- It does not mean that you have no-fault insurance; that you can’t be held liable for an accident.
- It does not mean that it is OK to dawdle your way across a six lane highway while twelve cars are waiting in the left turn lane, eight of which will have to wait for another light cycle because you are poking.
Pedestrians expect drivers to be courteous toward them but seemingly never consider returning the favor. Hustle across the street when you can! The drivers know you have the right of way – you don’t need to delay people just to make the point yet again. It is OK for pedestrians to be considerate too.
- It does not mean that you can stop paying attention to the world around you. Walking down the street staring at your phone, crossing intersections and parking lot entrances without ever looking up is both dangerous and stupid.
A wise man once noted that the only thing you know for certain when you see another driver’s directional blinking, is that his directional is blinking.
Similarly, the only thing you know for certain while blindly walking down the street empowered with the right of way, is that you are entitled to the right of way. You do not know if every driver and biker sees you and is willing and able in that moment to accommodate you.
It is reasonable for pedestrians to expect drivers to be paying attention and it is just as reasonable for drivers to expect pedestrians to be paying attention.
Pedestrians are a part of traffic, not above it.
Not everything that looks like progress automatically is. Do the crosswalk lights and timers make us a safer society, or just lazy? Or worse? Early in the morning in Any City, USA you can find people waiting for the little walking man to give them permission to cross the street, though ten minutes have passed since the last car did.
Is it a fear of getting caught crossing against the light that maintains them on the corner like zombies, or more frighteningly, did crossing against the light never even occur to them?
Perhaps the issue is neither safety nor laziness, but conditioning. Law enforcement and government routinely use tricks like pulling drivers over for not using their directional to change lanes when there are no other drivers behind them to see it, to turn citizens into less thoughtful beings.
Always use your directional.
Always wait for the walking man.
Pedestrians have the right of way.
Always do what the officer says.
Look around and around!
Most of all, think, think, think!
Cross when it’s safe.
Blink when it is necessary.
Enjoy the right of way and be considerate.
We’re all part of the same big traffic jam.
The sooner we stop honking at each other, the sooner the traffic will clear.
– REENO –
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