Policing the way people naturally move around our “walking” campus should not be the focus of the officers employed to keep us safe, but the focus should be to protect people from vehicles. The statewide laws that apply to our rural town do not make sense, as car traffic is minimal and people consistently do not use crosswalks.
Jaywalking laws have a social history that puts much of the burden on lower class people without cars, and minority groups who are harassed under the guise of jaywalking. These laws supposedly intend to protect pedestrians, but they end up only protecting drivers from liability. There should be a wider effort to make drivers more aware of their surroundings: Cars can be considered lethal weapons, so there should not be an automatic deference given to drivers. We should rather focus on making our campus a safer place for us all to walk, drive, bike and commute.
Jaywalking laws have historically protected those who drive recklessly. When cars were first invented, people and cars shared the roadways. It was common for city lights to blind pedestrians so that they got hit by cars. According to The Detroit News, at the close of the 1920s automobiles had killed more than 250,000 people, 60 percent of whom were children under the age of nine.
With increasing fatalities, solutions to preventing accidents were needed, such as crosswalks and sidewalks. The auto industry funded an increasing number of studies coming out in favor of controlling how and where people walk so as to give more space to vehicles. This started at a time of huge economic inequality, weak unions and low taxes; the deaths of pedestrians became the fallout of oppression and a culture that said either have money or get run over.
Current jaywalking laws stem from “broken window” theory. These laws are used to dissuade disorder by creating an atmosphere of order, but they are ultimately and commonly employed by police to confront and harass those they suspect of nefarious activity. This has relevance in Gambier, too. In summer 2017, three students of color participating in the Kenyon Review Young Writers’ Program were confronted by Knox County Sheriff Office (KCSO) Deputy Kevin Williams for walking in the road near the first-year quad, according to a Sept. 2017 Collegian article.
But according to a peer-reviewed study by New York University Langone Medical Center, jaywalking laws do not even address the issue of pedestrians getting hit. Forty-four percent of accidents happen at crosswalks, and only 23 percent happen mid-block. We should promote safe free-walking spaces in areas over which the College has jurisdiction, not try to restrict and limit them.
The United Kingdom has no jaywalking laws, yet has half the rate of pedestrian deaths due to automobiles, according to a 2011 study by the BBC. UK city planners have experimented with share-spaces as a solution, places where there are no clear demarcations. It seems counter intuitive, but research shows otherwise: After implementing a share-space it was reported that casualties fell by 43 percent once signs, markings and pedestrian barriers were removed. I cannot say what is the best solution to addressing car-pedestrian accidents, but cracking down on jaywalking is not one of them.
With KCSO’s announcement that it will be giving more attention to jaywalking in Gambier, I am confused as to why they think walking is an issue. They might just be trying to flex authority and infringe on our liberty, as there is no strong evidence that jaywalking laws keep people safe. These laws only serve to pester people who are just walking.
Ben Nutter ’21 is an undeclared major from Los Angeles, Calif. You can contact him at email@example.com.