Local News Story Blames Victims of Traffic Violence

by | November 12, 2015 | Featured, Vision Zero | 13 comments

victims are to blame

That headline on PhillyVoice.com caught our attention earlier today. At first, we wondered if it was simply click bait. But then we read the story, and the headline was quite fitting for the tone. (Here is a link to the article.)

According to the article, “Victims,” — in this case pedestrians — “are to blame” for their own deaths. This is not a groundbreaking idea. It’s a classic, even traditional windshield view of traffic safety that’s been taken up by the media for a long, long time: That victims of car pedestrian crashes lack common sense.

Try to make that argument to the families of victims.

But note this: The article was well-written. The reporter did his homework. He conducted relevant interviews and dug up the data. We, therefore, find it a bit odd that the conclusion reached is that the victims — those who can no longer speak for themselves — are to blame for traffic crashes. Especially when real solutions could have easily been drawn from at least one example brought up in the article.

The Duck Boat


We’ll use one example found within to show what’s wrong here. The story notes that the attorney for a victim who was killed by a Ride the Ducks driver in the spring claims that there is a “massive blind spot” on the right side of the duck boat vehicle.

When Bicycle Coalition Communications Manager Randy LoBasso wrote of this incident in May, he noted that when we shift the conversation to what the dead could have done differently, we miss what we need to change to make sure these sorts of incidents aren’t repeated:

In other words, there’s a private company operating World War II-era land- and sea-mobiles that likely do not give the driver a full view of what’s in front of them as they chauffeur kazoo-tooting tourists around our city’s streets, but the focus of the conversation is about the distracted pedestrian instead of what we can do about making our streets safer for all users.

Maybe it’s time to have a conversation about, you know, whether gigantic sea vessels should be operating in the some of the most densely populated areas of our city. Or, better yet, what about improving our infrastructure in ways that prevent tragedies like these from taking place?

The truth is, yes, human beings make mistakes, whether they are behind the wheel, on their bike or traveling on foot. But the penalty for making a mistake should not be death. Would an improved mirror system be a way to minimize the chances of a person being crushed by these enormous machines?

Crash Not Accident


A “tragic accident” was the description that a Philadelphia Police investigator gave for the Duck Boat tragedy; inevitable accidents, the “collateral damage” of road violence. The media uses the term accident and other word choices; such as struck by a car vs struck by a driver, as a way to describe car crashes in the passive voice.  Accidents will happen, but crashes can be mitigated or prevented. In the PhillyVoice story, we read that Elizabeth Karnicki, a victim of traffic violence, “kept walking – right into the duck boat. The impact crushed her head and body.”

One does not die when they walk into a boat. They die when the driver of the boat crashes into them.

Vision Zero


Vision Zero sets a goal of eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries on our roadways  The City is constantly working on safety improvements to the road network. But achieving a goal to reduce traffic deaths towards zero will require a comprehensive programming approach that engages diverse partners and utilizes a wide range of education, enforcement and engineering strategies.

But, fortunately, Philadelphia is making Vision Zero a priority. Mayor-Elect Jim Kenney has promised to focus on Vision Zero and Councilwoman Cindy Bass has introduced legislation to fund traffic calming improvements. On December 3rd The Bicycle Coalition and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital will be hosting a one day Vision Zero Philadelphia Conference that will bring in experts from around the country. We encourage the public at-large to attend this important conference to learn more about the complexity of traffic violence and its contributing factors.

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  1. Ben Cornelius

    Disappointed in this post.

    Of course pedestrians have responsibility for some of the things that happen to them – or us, I’ll say, since I walk a great deal in the city.

    I believe if you’re going to talk about the article, refer to it, contest it, you should link to it.

    Everyone needs to practice care: pedestrians, drivers, cyclists. No matter how unfair it might be, a contest between a motor vehicle and a pedestrian or cyclist or motorcyclist is likely to end poorly for the person not in a car. That’s just physics. A contest between a cyclist and pedestrian will probably be worse for the pedestrian.

    Everyone needs to practice care and everyone should be accountable for unsafe practices. You can’t design away every danger.

  2. Adam

    Fixing the driving in Philadelphia needs to be a huge part of vision zero. From “Pittsburgh left turns”, to jumping lights before they change, to flat out ignoring them, this city has some of the most egregious drivers I’ve seen. Traffic calming is all well and good, but we need enforcement of driving laws/education about them, people have no fear of ever getting a ticket, and pilot their vehicles accordingly. I bet if you randomly stopped 100 drivers and asked them who has right-of-way, pedestrians of vehicles, only about 20 would know the correct answer.

  3. Erika

    That was a terrible article. Everyone, including pedestrians, drivers, and
    cyclists, have the responsibility to pay attention when we use our
    roads and sidewalks. And yes, some pedestrians make stupid choices.
    However, many of the roads where there are high pedestrian
    deaths (like Roosevelt Blvd) are designed for cars (high speeds, no
    cross walks), not pedestrians, which is poor planning. Because the City
    of Philadelphia is so poor, it has one of the lowest rates of car
    ownership in the county. People need to get places, take their kids to
    day care, get groceries, go to work, etc., and since our city is so
    walkable, walking is often the best choice to get around. This means
    having to cross dangerous roads that split neighborhoods in half, like
    Roosevelt Blvd. What are people supposed to do? Not go to where they are
    supposed to be? Roads should be accessible to all types of transit,
    including walkers. This means designing or redesigning roads to have
    cross walks, pedestrians signals and even reduce the speed limit (OMG).
    Also, it’s absolutely ridiculously that this article used the Duck Boat
    accident to prove their point. The Duck Boats are based off of WWII vehicles that were made for war where the point is to kill people. In their use today they are always crashing and killing people (i.e. more recently in Seattle a Duck Boat crashed into a the
    bus and killed four people, and in the water, the terrible Duck Boat
    crash with the tug boat in the Delaware). I don’t think it’s the
    driver’s fault with the Duck Boats. Duck Boats are just not
    meant to be in our streets.

    • Ann

      You say that Philadelphia has the lowest car ownership rates. I have a hard time believing that when I see cars parked in the median along Oregon Avenue, practically piled on top of each other. Or the cars parked along the side where it distinctly says “NO PARKING” and in areas that are reserved for bus stops. The problem is that the people who have cars cram them where they can. The street blocks have too many houses for the number of cars that should be able to park there. I downsized to a sub-compact car so I could park easier. What I see around the city are people with SUVs and minivans. Why do you need an F-150 in the city? And I’m not disagreeing with you on your points, but lets look at who is causing all the gridlock, congestion, and parking problems. Then we can look at how they interact with bicyclists and pedestrians. It’s almost on a daily basis that some ass in a car is competing with me while I am on my bike. If I have the green, I have the right to go, but the guy in the car turning left thinks he has the right of way. People who live in this city, who own one or two cars, did not grow up in the city and do not know how or refuse to adapt to city living.

  4. Richard

    Having moved here about 2 months ago…this Philadelphia has the worst drivers I have ever seen. Most seem to have an NJ plate too…and this is after living in LA and the Bay are for a bit too with all their traffic. Literally, people don’t know how to drive here, and SEPTA will run you over if you get in their way. Part of the problem is our driving training is a joke. They should make the driving tests a bit more intense, partly to remind everyone that having a license is a privilege, not a right. That being said, the pedestrians here also seem to cross the street at will, which is not helping things. But truly, Philadelphia area drivers and especially NJ drivers are the worst I have ever seen…flooring it from one stop sign to the next.

    • Ann

      I can’t agree more with you. I have lived here for a year and a half and when I first got here, I would almost have an anxiety attack when it came time to leave the house because of the driving problems. Pedestrians don’t seem to care where they cross and they jump out from between cars all the time. Drivers in cars, for some inexplicable reason, think that gassing it between stop signs gets them somewhere faster, while I am biking and catch up to them at each stop sign. They are in such a hurry to pass bicyclists for no reason. Bicyclists who don’t understand the rules of the road aren’t any better. I see them going the wrong way down the street and ride on the sidewalk, which is ILLEGAL by the way, for adults. Everyone is to blame for the travel problems in this city. And I have driven in the D.C. area, which is the worst traffic I have ever seen, by far.

  5. HighStrungLoner

    A) Sometimes pedestrians are also responsible for accidents. You admit the original author draws their conclusions from many examples, after doing research. Then you decide to draw an overall conclusion from just one example. And a Duck Boat at that. Not exactly typical. And I say all this as a 62 year-old lifelong pedestrian and cyclist, only rarely owning a car.

    2) Are these commenters who have lived in Philly for less than two years really in any position to judge the long-gestating culture of Philadelphia? No, IMO.

  6. Andrew Levitt

    People really struggle to imagine how different life would be but for the automobiles. Remove distracted pedestrians, and cars still kill. Remove cars, and all the terrible behavior in the world won’t result in any deaths. It’s the cars that are the problem, this is practically a tautology. The terrible human cost of cars is indefensible.

    • Andrew Levitt

      Also what the hell is the Philly Voice?

      • Aaron B

        Apparently a new news outlet that wants to earn its keep by trolling on popular topics.

  7. Jason Itell

    One of the purposes of the legal system is to eliminate externalities – “costs” that are borne by those who did not choose to incur the cost. When a motorist chooses to drive and a pedestrian chooses to walk, the pedestrian bears 100% of his decision to walk and also bears the majority of the risk of the motorist’s decision to drive. When there is a collision, the court should assign responsibility to the driver, to the extent that careless drivers injure or kill pedestrians. The court should assign responsibility to the pedestrian to the extent that careless pedestrians injure or kill drivers. That way, the person who made the decision that resulted in the dangerous situation bears the legal responsibility for that decision.

  8. John Baxter

    The article, mainly via the police officer’s evaluations, makes it crystal clear that the victims are actually more often to blame than drivers, in spite of all the bad driving. The mistakes they make are not short-term, infinitesimal lapses in concentration, they are willful and egregiously stupid things like crossing a busy street when you can’t see the light while concentrating on a cell phone, rather than paying attention to your surroundings. The truth has nothing to do with being gentle with the families of the victims, who are not very likely to be objective in judging what happened. While it may seem unfair to have to die for such a mistake, that is the reality of the world we live in. I don’t mean to say that all the other suggested remedies are not worth pursuing. But, to try to shift the blame away from someone who clearly has caused their own demise to the driver of a vehicle whose mirror system could use improvement blocks the logical solution, which is to place the blame squarely where it belongs and then educate the rest of us as to what happened. The article clearly says that the woman was “dawdling” and that the Duck had already started moving. Tragically, she walked right into the Duck Boat, as the article says. It’s time The Bicycle Coalition started viewing all these problems objectively, rather than trying to take the blame off those most responsible if they are not motorists!


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