Monday, 7 September 2009
In defence of jaywalking
As any Facebook friends will know, last week I had an encounter with the Australian nanny state that left me pretty pissed off. What happened? Well, I crossed a road, having checked both ways for traffic and making sure it was safe. But oh no, that’s not good enough here:
In Australia it is illegal to start crossing the road at an intersection when a pedestrian light is red or flashing red. If no such pedestrian light exists, the traffic lights are used, making it illegal to proceed on green or orange. Furthermore it is illegal to cross any road within 20 metres of an intersection with pedestrian lights or within 20 meters of any pedestrian crossing (including a zebra crossing, school crossing or any other pedestrian crossing). However laws against jaywalking are rarely enforced, with the exception of the occasional police 'blitz' on jaywalking for a week or so at a time, when the laws are enforced more stringently. Some roads, such as roads with a record of pedestrian accidents, feature fences in their centres to discourage pedestrians, but there is no law against traversing them.
Two policemen stopped me and advised me that I’d broken the law and were about to slap a $60 fine on me. Thankfully I managed to plead ignorance – and my accent helped! But it really infuriated me. Apparently the laws are very rarely enforced here, apart from occasional 'crackdowns' which are obviously just a revenue-raising exercise. Talk about a tax on common sense.
I can’t find any evidence anywhere that “jaywalking” leads to increased accidents or injuries to pedestrians or that countries that have anti-jaywalking laws have lower injury or death rates. But intuitively it seems to me that if you take away people’s right to make an informed judgment of speed and distance, then they’re going to lose those skills pretty quickly (or indeed, may never develop them). And if you treat people like idiots, they tend to act like them.