pedestrian crossing

Waiting for a break

Zebra crossings should be one of the simplest interactions on the road, they are built at right angles to traffic and the give way hierarchy has just a single level. Simple until you add layers of car centric road rules.

Victoria largely adopted the Australian national road rules and they were almost silently brought into effect in 2009, changing the rules without any effort to inform and educate the existing driving population. Since its introduction the real world effects of the rules have now sunk in and not all the changes have been improvements over the older systems. I’ll continue to take issue with the definition of giving way:

give way, for a driver or pedestrian, means
(a) if the driver or pedestrian is stopped – remain stationary until it is safe to proceed; or
(b) in any other case—slow down and, if necessary, stop to avoid a collision

Most of the offences surrounding driving are a requirement to give way, but the threshold of failure is a collision! Although easy to measure as a binary question of: did contact occur between road users? This leaves vulnerable users who would be disproportionately affected by a collision taking the brunt of the responsibility, drivers will and do use their armoured boxes vehicles to ignore the requirements to give way, safe in the knowledge that other users would not be stupid enough to end up in a collision and the risks and expense thereof.

So lets take apart the rules around pedestrian (Zebra) crossings

81 Giving way at a pedestrian crossing
(1) A driver approaching a pedestrian crossing must drive at a speed at which the driver can, if necessary, stop safely before the crossing. Pedestrian crossing is defined in subrule (3).
(2) A driver must give way to any pedestrian on a pedestrian crossing. Penalty: 5 penalty units.

First is the classic thought experiment given to students learning about evaluation of limits, if you move toward something a fraction of the remaining distance at each step, you will never arrive at the destination. Moving to physics, deceleration requires distance to achieve, and no matter how slow the speed you are moving coming to a stop requires you move a little bit further. Balancing the stopping forces of a car is one of the basic skills a driver develops as a learner, avoiding the rocking/swaying at a stop when you decelerate too quickly and the tires/brakes form a spring absorbing the additional distance the car moved.

So in a ridiculous literal interpretation the rule is flawed, a more pragmatic approach might have been something such as instead of simply stop the wording “stop before any pedestrian on the crossing”. Shockingly even perhaps add a specified distance required, as much as the police complain they can’t enforce it the alternative requiring no more than zero clearances entrenches intimidation and aggression on the roads. Requiring a 1m (3 foot) gap it may be hard to discern the difference between 1.1m and 0.9m, but it is easy to see the difference between 0.3m and 1m, just as speed limits historically had a tolerance on their application.

The second part of the rule falls back on the same problems of only penalising collisions, not near misses or situations where the pedestrian sensibly choses to move out of the way to avoid the collision. This leads to drivers pushing through crossings without restraint while pedestrians who do not wish to be involved in a collision wait for a polite driver to let them cross, here is a typical example:

In the middle of a busy commercial district this crossing provides access to/from a large parking area and crosses the dead end road with a (inadequately signed) 20km/h limit. Still the pedestrian on the right patiently waits as cars pass through the crossing in front of them, giving a friendly wave when vehicles finally stop for them. The oncoming driver changes its mind about continuing through the crossing as pair of pedestrians come the other way sitting into the crossing its self but still avoiding a traffic infringement. All these behaviours fail to be captured within the current road rules.

Pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists are not protected in armoured boxes as other road users are. They need specific rules to protect them from vehicles encroaching on their space, not an all or nothing free for all where the minimum offence requires colliding with them.

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