As a Los Angeles pedestrian, I never take it for granted that my life won’t suddenly end at the hands of a careless motorist. I don’t own a car. Every day I navigate a dangerous gantlet of drivers who speed, blow straight through crosswalks without stopping and generally refuse to respect the rights of pedestrians. I’ve witnessed too many near-misses to count. And things only seem to be getting worse.
Pedestrian deaths just keep rising. They are up by 45% from two years ago, when it was already a major problem; 134 were killed in 2017.
Almost as upsetting as the statistics is the Los Angeles Police Department’s response. If you’re a walker rather than a driver, you know this is true: LAPD officers target pedestrians for tickets but rarely react when motorists violate traffic laws right in front of them. This selective enforcement seems so blatant that I suspect it’s by design. The LAPD is intentionally putting the responsibility for street safety on pedestrians, even though motorists control the cars that kill.
Just look at the LAPD South Traffic Division website, where it explains the division’s effort to reduce “the number of vehicle vs. pedestrian Traffic Collisions.” The solution? “Enforcing pedestrian related vehicle code violations.”
Aside from being unfair, this strategy is ineffective. Fatal pedestrian-automobile collisions continue to climb. The LAPD should be targeting motorists more aggressively.
In May of 2016, I submitted a public records request for every citation issued by the LAPD to pedestrians for jaywalking from 2010 through 2015. I also asked for data on motorist “failure to yield” violations covering the same time period. (Failure to yield occurs when a pedestrian is crossing or attempting to cross the street in a marked crosswalk and a driver doesn’t yield the right of way, or when a driver navigates around pedestrians and comes close to striking them.)
It took two years to get the data, and just five divisions responded — Central, Hollenbeck, Hollywood, Van Nuys and Northeast. Of 68,072 total citations, 55,392 went to pedestrians. In other words, 81% of tickets issued for crosswalk infractions went to pedestrians.
Central Division, which includes downtown, Chinatown and skid row, was particularly aggressive toward pedestrians. Of their 43,326 combined citations, only 11.25% (4,876) were issued to drivers. During the six years covered by the data, there were more jaywalking tickets issued in just the Central Division than there were failure-to-yield tickets in the five divisions combined. Meanwhile, 20 pedestrians were killed by cars in the Central Division in 2017 alone.
California, and Los Angeles in particular, is supposed to be making life easier for those on foot. In 2017, Gov. Jerry Brown put a stop to police ticketing pedestrians who entered a crosswalk after the “walk/don’t walk” countdown began. These were costly tickets that suddenly made it illegal to cross a street when the light was still green. And L.A. claims to be pursuing a citywide “Vision Zero” strategy to end all traffic deaths by 2025.
If Los Angeles is sincere about eliminating pedestrian deaths, there is an obvious place to start — the LAPD should enforce motorist laws as aggressively as those that govern pedestrians.
Going after errant motorists with the same gusto as jaywalkers has a track record of success. The New York Police Department identified failure-to-yield violations as one of the leading causes of traffic fatalities. In response, in 2017 it increased its enforcement of this violation by 12.5% over the previous year. Pedestrian deaths dropped from 144 to 101, the lowest number in the city since 1910.
I asked the LAPD multiple times to explain why the record of tickets was so lopsided against pedestrians. No one returned my phone calls or emails.
Cars kill, and the LAPD should be holding motorists as well as pedestrians responsible for the behavior that makes our streets dangerous.