Lileks: Few strides in battle of cars vs. pedestrians

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 27, 2012 - 10:20 PM

Every week is devoted to some sort of civic instruction. I think last week was part of National Stop Hitting Your Head on the Corner of a Cabinet Door, which raised awareness about how much that hurts, and how we can all be safer around the house if we glue the doors shut and wear helmets.

Going on right now: Don't Get Hit by a Car Week, which is also running with Don't Hit Anyone With your Car Week. It's part of Share the Road, a big state-funded PR push aimed at reducing traffic-related fatalities to zero.

You may say: Good luck. I'd say: Is there another target number you have in mind? At the risk of making this column sound like a plate of boiled spinach, it is a serious matter; 40 people were killed last year in car vs. human interactions. Twelve so far this year.

I was almost responsible for No. 13 last week. We'll get to that. As for the campaign, the same questions apply as with any well-intentioned thing:

Why do we have this problem? Does this solve it?

The Minnesota Department of Transportation website cuts right to the problem: "What causes pedestrian-vehicle crashes?" Half the time it's the motorist's fault. The other half is the walker's fault. "Pedestrians can't do much to improve a driver's habits," the site says, "just like drivers can't do anything about pedestrian behaviors."

Oh, I beg to differ. Blowing through an intersection with horn blowing works most of the time for drivers, and pedestrians can make a point by whipping out a shoulder-mounted rocket-propelled grenade launcher and aiming for the window decal of Calvin relieving himself on a Ford logo. But neither is recommended. So what do we do? The website says: "Pedestrians should make eye contact with drivers before proceeding into the crosswalk."

In Rome, any pedestrian who acknowledges the presence of a car has forfeited his life and can be lofted over the hood with impunity. So people just walk into the street there, trusting in God. And then they're hit by the Popemobile.

But that works here, I think. When you make eye contact with the driver, you're saying, "We have recognized our unspoken stake in the commonality of our existence. Also, I can probably identify you in court."

Will it all work? This may sound counterintuitive, but hear me out. I believe there's a general pre-existing consensus that says A) it's bad to run over pedestrians, and B) it's bad to get hit by a car. I don't know anyone who's on the fence about this.

Well, if it does help, great; that's why I'm bringing it up. But there's a powerful enemy at work: human nature.

All you need to know about human nature can be summed up in the parking lot of Target. When you're in your car, waiting for people to cross the lot, you say: C'mon. Unless you stocked up on cinder blocks you can push that cart a little faster. Life is short and my shopping list is long. The minute you park and get out of your car, you instantly turn into Super Pedestrian, able to make cars wait to pull out for a minute while you tie your shoe. It's an amazing transformation.

It's not hard. It comes down to this.

Pedestrians: If you jaywalk with an insouciant air of entitlement and immortality because you can't be bothered to go to the corner, and you make the assumption that the cars won't hit you, remember: When you make an assumption, you make an ASS out of U and Me. Words to live by.

Drivers: Put down the $*%(# phone. The only reason you should have your left hand clapped over your ear is because you are trying to remove a parasite that flew through the window and clapped itself on the side of your head, and even then the State Patrol advises moving to the breakdown lane, and using salt if it's a leech. Really.

Oh, and crash No. 13? When I was driving home at dusk last week I turned the corner -- saw a man in dark clothes walking in the middle of the street -- invoked every deity from Apollo to Zeus -- hit the brakes so hard the odometer turned back a tenth of mile.

He flipped me off and kept walking.

If he didn't think a car could make an impression, I have to wonder about an ad campaign.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858

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