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Pedestrian Safety Efforts Should Be Aimed at Drivers

Source: Illustration by Toon Vugts

There have been some good ads this year pointing out a fact that some still fail to realize: aggressive driving is unlikely to be worth the risk. 

The few minutes you save by overtaking the car ahead of you on a two-lane highway is canceled out by all the risks that passing entails. One classic low-percentage gambit is the Tallinn-Tartu game of chicken where the driver aborts a multiple pass and wiggles his way into a non-existent space at the last minute to avoid an oncoming truck. Such ads should continue, and should be more scathing regarding these idiots instead of trying to reason with them.

A similar ad aimed at pedestrians in Tallinn - essentially "don't rush across/into the street, the driver might not have time to react" - has left me scratching my head, however. Should the onus really be on pedestrians to watch out for drivers? Because I'm not seeing any corresponding ads telling drivers to watch out for pedestrians.

Pedestrians are often guilty of WWI (walking while intoxicated), and some of the middle-aged small-town cyclists who tragically die each year are probably pedaling off at least a hangover (though young athletes have also been killed while training). But looking at the accident reports that make the news, I still see just as many hit-and-run collisions, and cases where the car was speeding or where the driver was drunk.

Just last week, a car operated by a drunk driver careened down Väike-Karja street in the Old Town, hitting shopfronts and sending a person in their 50s to the hospital. I don't even understand why cars are allowed in the Old Town in the first place. Pedestrians have enough worries with falling ice in winter, and dodging the Greek-style restaurant touts' oily advances.

Nor is it an easy world for pedestrians outside the Old Town. At the intersection of Tatari and Liivalaia, the monstrous Soviet-constructed wind tunnel that runs through the city center, the lights are timed so walkers are stranded on a narrow median for about a minute waiting for the walk signal as cars whiz by, certainly not at the posted 50 kph but more like 60 in the best case. Some larger baby carriages must be turned 90 degrees to make them fit.

With the beginning of the dark period, as October to March is called, right around the corner, we are sure to see more reminders geared at foot traffic. On a few random days, police will undoubtedly check pedestrians to see if they are wearing the reflectors mandated by law. In the past, police have taken an educational approach, not assessing fines (which can run into the hundreds of euros) for not wearing the reflective devices. But the message is clear: pedestrians, not drivers, should be the ones making sure.

I look at it another way. If you're piloting a large box made of metal with four wheels and weighing several tons down a public thoroughfare, it is your responsibility, and nobody else's, to make absolutely sure your way is clear. Even with free public transport, we live in an imperfect world, and if confused pensioners or the despondent jump into your path, you should be going at a speed that gives you time to stop.

The only alternative to this approach is to not drive.

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