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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Impersonal Behavior When Driving - is it ok to treat pedestrians as you would another car?

My nephew recently told me the story of truck driver friend he knows who had a light-bulb moment of understanding while being in Chicago recently.  Until this moment, he took the road, in his 4000 lbs vehicle, with a stance of dominance.  Pedestrians beware!  He had the right-of-way.  

In the Windy City, at stops, he repeatedly had pedestrians give him a sharp thump on his hood as they passed in front of his car.  Why?  Later he realized he had entered their space - he was in the crosswalk & they had the right-of-way.  In all honesty, he reported to my nephew, he did not know that he was supposed to yield to them!

Pedestrians of Nashville, carefully of course, take back the road.  You have the right to walk and you have the right-of-way!  It is the law and it is a driver's job to yield to you.  If a critical mass of walkers are out there on foot we can make a change in our change in our culture for the better!    

The Driver's Paradigm

No doubt you have noticed that drivers act in ways they never would in person.  Would you cut in line at the grocery?  No, but you might certainly hold off on getting in the merge lane on the expressway if it is backed up only to dart in later.

It seems, when one gets in their car (a personal bubble if you will) that there is a great movement towards impersonalization. People will behave in ways there never would if they had to be face-to-face with the other person in the next car.

This behavior becomes a great concern when you have a population who is particularly vulnerable:  those on foot and those on bicycles. 

For a time, I have wanted to pursue a public awareness campaign that clearly puts the pedestrians of Nashville 1st and teaches drivers that they need to 1) see pedestrians and slow in response and 2) that pedestrians do have the right-of-way are drivers need to yield to them (it is, in fact, not the other way around --- drivers should NOT speed up to try to avoid walkers!)

Driving seems to bring out the worst in people - a fact many of us know well.  Another argument for making Nashville more walkable is that the behavior drawn out of us while driving is not the face our city wants to show to our many visitors.  

I came across this wholly unattractive list of emotions and behaviors that driving supports - I encourage you to read it and consider your own experience of driving.

Basic Principles of Driving Psychology

The primary affective driving norms are: 

---valuing territoriality, dominance, and competition as a desirable driving style
---condoning intolerance of diversity (in needs and competencies of other drivers)
---supporting retribution ethics (or vigilante motives with desire to punish or amend)
---social acceptance of impulsivity and risk taking in driving
condoning aggressiveness, disrespect, and the expression of hostility 

These affective norms are negative and anti-social. Socio-cultural methods must be used to reduce the attractiveness of these aggressive norms and to increase the attractiveness of positive and cooperative driver roles.

The primary cognitive driving norms are: 

---inaccurate risk assessment
---biased and self-serving explanations of driving incidents
---lack of emotional intelligence as a driver
---low or underdeveloped level of moral involvement (dissociation and egotism) 

These cognitive norms are inaccurate and inadequate. Self-training and self-improvement techniques must be taught so that drivers can better manage risk and regulate their own emotional behavior.

The primary sensorimotor driving norms are: 

---automatized habits (un-self-conscious or unaware of one’s style and risk)
---errors of perception (e.g., distance, speed, initiating wrong action)
---lapses (in one’s attention or performance due to fatigue, sleepiness, drugs, boredom, inadequate training or preparation) 

These sensorimotor norms are inadequate and immature. Lifelong driver self-improvement exercises are necessary to reach more competent habits of driving.



  1. I think you make some really good points, but I wonder at what point is this no longer an education/awareness problem and instead an engineering/design problem? And I'm not trying to absolve drivers from blame, just working through my own thoughts.

    If you put a person in a stressful situation and they get stressed and lash out, can you really be surprised? If you put a driver on a street that looks safe to drive at 50 mph, can you really be surprised they don't obey the 35 mph speed limit?

    Of course drivers should be held accountable and laws enforced, but maybe we should start fighting for roads where if a driver makes a mistake, pedestrians and cyclists aren't the ones punished (injured or killed). We know pedestrian fatalities go way down when vehicle speeds drop from 30 to 20 mph. We know right turns on red are dangerous for peds. We know that prioritizing peds at intersections through bulb-outs, leading pedestrian indicators, median shelters, losing the beg button, etc, encourages more walking and makes peds more visible and respected.

    Like I said, some things I've been working through lately. What do you think?

    1. First, I want to thank you for writing with your thoughts. I have always wanted this project, Shade Parade Nashville, to be a conversation that leads to improved walkability in Nashville. I am open to all ideas. I have shot a lot of 'arrows' in different directions on this subject - but one major concept - shifting Nashville from a drivers are #1 city to a yield to all pedestrians position - seems like an important component. Personally, I feel strongly that there needs to be a cultural shift in Nashville akin to what the mayor of Vancouver pioneered. He changed all civic projects to put pedestrians 1st, cars last with public education programs to help the city make the shift in mindset. So, in this regard, I do feel that education is a key player in the change I hope to see.

      I do feel that you can hold drivers accountable for their behavior whether it is speeding or ill-behavior. As a driver, you make the choice to get into your vehicle and with that choice comes the responsibility to take care. Drivers need to understand the law - they are responsible for yielding to pedestrians. So, if they choose to drive 50 on a 35mph road and a small child runs into the road - well, you understand. I hope I addressed your questions - let me know if you have more.

  2. Absolutely, I think it all goes together. We need the cultural shift that demands that pedestrian safety is prioritized over driver convenience. With that shift, we can demand that roads are designed so that drivers have to pay attention and slow down.

    Also if more people are walking, they will (hopefully) understand the pedestrian experience better and be more courteous when driving.

    (Of course, I saw a crossing guard have to guide a father and daughter across the intersection at Natchez Trace and Fairfax this morning, even though they had the pedestrian signal. Just seems sad that that's necessary because some parent would have no problem running over a child if it got theirs to school 5 seconds faster.)