Monday, October 16, 2023

That PSA

There was a good old-fashioned ratio on the thing that used to be Twitter today. The Richmond RCMP decided to go out with a fall PSA on pedestrian safety. In the fall, crashes involving pedestrians tick up a little as it gets darker, and inevitably you wind up watching something like this.

Girl heads out, in a black hoodie. She pops in her AirPods, flips up her hood. She hits the beg button at the crosswalk and when she gets the signal and the flashing lights she starts to cross. Meanwhile, a driver gets a text notification or a call or something, so he picks his phone up from the cupholder and starts to respond, ignoring the road. Screech of tires. The two look at each other in shock. The driver puts his phone back into the cupholder. The girl removes her earbuds. Fade out: "Pedestrian safety is a two way street." 

Twitter's response? Cordially: oh fuck off, Richmond RCMP. 

What this PSA showed was a person going for a walk, in broad daylight, pressing the crossing button, waiting for the flashing lights at the pedestrian crossing, then crossing the street - and a person driving a car while trying to answer a text message. One of these things is illegal.

The PSA frames them as equivalent. Two-way street. Sure, that driver shouldn't have answered the phone. But she was walking with headphones in! 

They got rightly dragged. I participated in some of the dragging. 

I am probably preaching to the choir on this blog, but if we are living in a world where no one can listen to music while they walk (while drivers cruise along in a soundproofed box that doubles as a stereo sound system), then we are also in a world where no person with hearing loss should be permitted to walk around unattended, and what about blind people? If we're saying you have to wear a high-visibility vest, be on high alert, and also be able-bodied to. . . walk. . . then we truly have ceded our public spaces to the automobile.

In general, even if they've got headphones on, pedestrians and cyclists are more aware of the environment than drivers, because they're not in a sound-dampened, climate-controlled, windproofed roll cage. The burden of responsibility should always be on the person who is capable of the most damage. The one behind the wheel of the large, heavy, fast-moving vehicle. And if you're going to say that there's a shared responsibility, maybe don't draw an equivalence between wearing headphones and a hoodie to go for a walk, and operating a vehicle while focusing on your phone. 

In response to getting righteously pilloried, the Richmond RCMP responded, in part: 

"Every year we put out a media release on pedestrian safety, roughly at this time of year. We offer tips for sharing the road for both the pedestrian/cyclist and the motorist. 

This year, is the first year we decided to make a video. The video was conceived in-house and a student with a gift for film, graciously donated his time and his skillset. The people in the video were volunteers. 

This was a positive experience for us, but the response to it has been extremely disheartening. The purpose is of the video is to reduce harm, save, lives, and create awareness. Full stop. Nothing more an certainly, nothing less. The video is not about X being more right than Y. That is not it's purpose. 

We have investigated many, many pedestrian and cyclist collisions throughout the years. They can be gruesome. They can take their toll mentally on everyone involved. Many of them are entirely preventable." 

WAY to double down. 

You conceived this in-house? That just indicates your internal bias: this pernicious car-brainedness that says "distracted driving is just something that happens. Speeding? I mean, we all do that, it's only bad if you're going more than 20 over. You can't do anything about cars maiming people, it's everyone else that has to be on high alert at all times for their own safety. You can't trust that the people in those cars actually see you. I mean, if you're sharing the road with these things it's on you not to get killed." 

It's not about X being more right than Y? Yeah, except one of those things is against the law and can result in your killing other people, and the other of those things is listening to music while you walk. 

Your student filmmaker went along with the message and did his best to get it across? He did a good job, it's not a bad little piece of video. But from the start to the finish it is based in an assumption that pedestrians are asking to be injured or killed if they don't head out on that walk prepped for a high-risk undertaking. And you are the police force that will be responding to that crash scene and asking, "so, was the victim wearing dark clothes, or earbuds?" 

And that. . . that is why we're dragging you. We're begging you to see it.