By: Jenna Bouley,

Most people have at some point in their lives jaywalked regardless of the safety concerns with the practice. While jaywalking is still generally illegal, the rule is often not enforced.[1] As defined by Merriam-Webster, jaywalking is a verb meaning “to cross a street carelessly or in an illegal manner so as to be endangered by traffic.”[2] However, in practice it is more likely that people do not consider the safety concerns implicated by the definition, but simply see jaywalking as the easiest way to get from one point to another. Obviously, jaywalking presents safety concerns and can even result in death. The United States Department of Transportation provides that in 2015, 71% of all pedestrian fatalities were at non-intersection locations whereas at intersection locations fatalities were only at 19%.[3] In a report produced by the Governors Highway Safety Association in 2016 that percentage appeared to increase to 82% of pedestrian fatalities occurring outside of intersections.[4] The report also provided that around 6,000 pedestrian fatalities are estimated to have occurred in 2016, which would make 2016 the first year in more than two decades with more than 6,000 pedestrian deaths.[5] The cause of this surge may be an increase in distractions by both pedestrians and drivers having their eyes are down, staring at their phones.[6] Since, phones are unlikely to be going away anytime soon the answer may in fact lie in the use of more technology, self-driving cars.

A report recently released from the National Association of City Transportation Officials, a nonprofit representing cities on transportation issues, provides a blueprint of cities with self-driving cars that allow pedestrians to cross anywhere they want.[7] The concept being that the technology in self-driving cars will be able to identify when a person is trying to cross a street, and slowdown to allow the person to safely cross the street.[8] The report goes on to provide that  streets should be designed to allow maximum a speed on 20 to 25 mph.[9] As such the authors of the report provide that concept of jaywalking would become a thing of the past stating that: “the instinctive human act of walking straight to one’s destination, pejoratively known as “jaywalking,” becomes simply “walking”.”[10]

While cities often look to the National Association of City Transportation Officials for guidance on what policies to adopt it is unclear if they would be willing to adopt such a policy.[11] Cities must make decisions about what they want to prioritize and that includes deciding whether to place their resources in vehicles, pedestrians or other uses of streets.[12] However, the theoretical benefit of self-driving cars in this area is that there is considerable evidence that autonomous vehicles drive much more cautiously than the majority of human drivers and will be able to sense when a human is crossing in front of it.[13] Moreover, an autonomous vehicle would likely be programmed to respect the pedestrian’s right of way, regardless of whether a crosswalk is unmarked or marked.[14] These improvements will help ensure that pedestrians will remain safe regardless of whether they are jaywalking. While, self-driving cars are still a developing technology they could be the answer to providing a safer way of life for pedestrians.

 

[1] Matt McFarland, Self-driving Cars Could Make Jaywalking Legal, CNN Tech (Nov. 3, 2017), http://money.cnn.com/2017/11/03/technology/culture/autonomous-vehicles-jaywalking/index.html.

[2] Merriam-Webster.com, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/jaywalk (last visited Nov. 9, 2017).

[3] United State Department of Transportation: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Pedestrian Safety, https://www.nhtsa.gov/road-safety/pedestrian-safety (last visited Nov. 9, 2017).

[4] Government Highway Safety Association, Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State: 2016 Preliminary Data, http://www.ghsa.org/resources/spotlight-peds17 (last visited Nov. 9, 2017).

[5] Richard Retting & Sam Schwartz, Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State: 2016 Preliminary Data, Government Highway Safety Association, 4 http://www.ghsa.org/sites/default/files/2017-03/2017ped_FINAL_4.pdf (last visited Nov. 9, 2017).

[6] See David Schaper, Distraction, On Street And Sidewalk, Helps Cause Record Pedestrian Deaths, NPR (Mar. 30 2017), https://www.npr.org/2017/03/30/522085503/2016-saw-a-record-increase-in-pedestrian-deaths.

[7] See McFarland, supra note 1.

[8] Id.

[9] Janette Sadik-Khan et al., BlueprintfFor Autonomous Urbanism, National Association of City Transportation Officials, 12 (Nov. 9, 2017), https://nacto.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/BAU_Mod1_raster-sm.pdf last visited.

[10] Id. at 41.

[11] See McFarland, supra note 1.

[12] See id.

[13] Adam Millard-Ball, Pedestrians, Autonomous Vehicles, and Cities, J. of Planning Ed. & Research, 3 (Nov. 9, 2017), http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0739456X16675674.

[14] Id at 4.

Image Source: https://www.acsh.org/.

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