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Submission + - The Invention of Jaywalking 1

Hugh Pickens writes writes: "In the state of New York Drivers who kill or maim pedestrians are rarely treated as criminals as long as they are not drunk and do not flee the scene. Twenty years ago, an out-of-control driver plowed through New York’s Washington Square Park, killing 5 people and injuring 27 others. But the driver, a 74-year-old woman, was never charged with any crime. It wasn’t always like this. Prior to 1930 when pedestrians died after being struck by automobiles, the driver was almost charged with something like “technical manslaughter.” So what happened? And when? In the automobile’s earliest years, the principles of common law applied to crashes. In the case of a collision, the larger, heavier vehicle was deemed to be at fault and the responsibility for crashes always lay with the driver. Public opinion was on the side of the pedestrian. “There was a lot of anger in the early years,” says Peter Norton. “A lot of resentment against cars for endangering streets.” In 1923 citizens’ anger over pedestrian deaths gave rise to a referendum drive in Cincinnati (PDF) that would have required all vehicles in the city to be fitted with speed governors limiting them to 25 miles per hour. Local auto clubs and dealers recognized that cars would be a lot harder to sell if there was a cap on their speed and got Detroit involved defeating the drive and promoting the adoption of traffic statutes to supplant common law. The idea of "jaywalking” – a concept that had not really existed prior to 1920 – was enshrined in law. “If you ask people today what a street is for, they will say cars,” says Norton, author of "Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City". “That’s practically the opposite of what they would have said 100 years ago.”"

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