The Auto Clubs That Invented Jaywalking to Shift Blame to Pedestrians
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Sure, we all hate it when some arrogant pedestrian has the audacity to get their blood all over our hood, but put yourself in the shoes of that oblivious walk-monkey for a second: Isn't it a little strange that, if you happen to cross the road at the wrong spot, you're the lawbreaker, even if you don't inconvenience any drivers at all? Motorcycles, bicycles -- hell, even horses supposedly have equal rights to the road. But you, with your primitive feet, have absolutely no business being there, and you're basically volunteering for a real-life game of Frogger every time you cross the street in a non-stripy section.
Except that you'd never have the stones to rock the vest/tie/no shirt combo.
But that wasn't always the case. When cars first arrived on the scene, they weren't guaranteed the right of way -- if a car hit a pedestrian, it was a shocking and public tragedy. The driver would face charges of something like "technical manslaughter" even when the accident was considered unavoidable. The thinking was that you're the one shooting about in a murder machine -- the burden of caution is on you.
It was auto clubs like AAA that first worked to make drivers the lords of the blacktop. Back in 1923, people started calling for physical speed limiters on cars to prevent accidents, and auto clubs (under heavy influence from the boys in Detroit) realized that slower cars would result in fewer owners, fewer sales, and fewer memberships. With an astoundingly subtle, graceful, not even slightly racist campaign, they lobbied and successfully kept American cars faster than your mom at a Loverboy concert.
Although the idea of walling off Cincinnati does sound appealing to most modern Americans.
The bigger victory, though, was shifting the blame for accidents away from errant, roguish, begoggled old-timey automobilists over to those devil-may-care pedestrians. The concept of jaywalking basically didn't exist until the 1920s -- why would it? Streets were made for people to get around, and most people got around by walking. Now they suddenly had to get the hell out of the road to make way for cars. It makes sense to us today in our auto-centric culture, but picture that moment when it happened: It would be like waking up one morning to find that you could no longer walk down the hallway in your apartment building because too many people were getting hit by Segways.