Wellington Scoop

Who’s to blame? Pedestrians, or drivers?

Report from RNZ
Comments by a Wellington city councillor that careless jaywalkers in the capital’s Golden Mile might be the victims of natural selection have outraged some road safety campaigners.

At a council debate over the government’s new road safety strategy yesterday, councillor Brian Dawson criticised a colleague’s claim that pedestrians should not be blamed for their own deaths and serious injuries.

Mr Dawson told the council committee that people stepping out onto a busy street without looking need to own their actions.

“I can tell you as someone who has experienced this for themselves. When a pedestrian wanders out in front of your bus with their headphones on, staring at their telephone, thinking that somehow that makes them invulnerable.

“Well it is Darwinian theory at work.”

Walking advocate Andy Smith from Living Streets Aotearoa said Mr Dawson’s comments were insensitive and he should apologise.

“He’s councillor, he looks after streets, he looks after footpaths. He shouldn’t make a joke of it, he should actually try and repair this.

“It’s not funny, it could have been one of his own family that gets run down, it’s not a joke then.”

Caroline Perry from road safety charity BREAK said Mr Dawson’s comments were retraumatising to victims and families of people who have been hurt or killed on the road.

“People make mistakes on roads but they don’t deserve to pay for it with their life.

“For those families who’ve been bereaved in crashes – their lives have been suddenly and terrifically torn apart. And so we need to be sensitive to the fact that they are grieving their loved one.”

But Mr Dawson wasn’t backing down.

He said while all accidents were tragic, it was not just pedestrian’s lives that were ruined in a crash.

He said he’d been a bus driver for more than 30 years and he knew drivers who had to quit and needed extensive counselling after hitting pedestrians that walked in front of their bus without looking.

“The point I was making yesterday, and the point I will always continue to make, is that we all have to take responsibility about being sensible people.”

Transport Agency statistics show that in the five years to 2018, there have been 64 crashes involving pedestrians on the Golden Mile – the corridor stretching from Courtenay Place through to Lambton Quay. Of them 57 resulted in injuries, including 18 that were serious. The figures state that almost three quarters were at least partly caused by pedestrians.


  1. Paul, 19. August 2019, 8:48

    The biggest problem with the Golden Mile is the 30kph! It makes (it shouldn’t, but it does) pedestrians feel safe and able to just walk out, stare down bus drivers as they step out, or just go quickly as the traffic “has” to go slow. Look at the Terrace people crossing all over the place, but with much greater care.

    Yes there is the argument that if you get hit at 30kph there is less damage. Let’s try and stop people actually getting hit in the first place!

  2. Mike Mellor, 19. August 2019, 12:24

    The Golden Mile is a place where the presence of both pedestrians and buses is essential, so we need a way of ensuring that they mix safely (which is very unlikely to involve raising vehicle speeds).

    Focusing on “who to blame” is insufficient and divisive: what matters is looking in depth at why incidents happen, and developing strategies to stop a recurrence. Interestingly, this is what happens with non-road transport incidents (involving modes that are much safer than using the road), while for by far the most dangerous mode all we do is investigate with a view to prosecution – i.e., assigning blame. Look where that’s got us with road deaths!

    Using inaccurate terms like “jaywalking” (a concept invented by US car manufacturers to keep pedestrians out of the way of their vehicles) doesn’t help, either – in NZ it’s called “crossing the road”.

    And, by the way, the road safety charity is Brake, not BREAK – see