If we increase fines for failing to yield to a pedestrian, will we get results?

As a single, stand-alone measure, increasing fines for failure to yield to pedestrians is not likely to get results. The average motorist is not familiar with pedestrian rights-of-way, applicable motor vehicle codes, or what the fines may be for failure to yield in different traffic situations, so any changes would have little relative effect. While a community may still decide to increase fines, that act is most effective when done in the context of a holistic education and enforcement program.

Image: Dan Burden

Research studies show that consistent enforcement programs can dramatically improve yield to pedestrian behavior. Enforcement programs should be built around public involvement and awareness, education, and enforcement activities, such as progressive ticketing or pedestrian decoy operations. For more information on enforcement implementation, see the page "Law Enforcement Approaches" at http://www.walkinginfo.org/enforcement/programs-enforcement.cfm.

Programs in cities and states that have improved yield-to-pedestrian compliance vary, but generally, they have the following elements in common:

  • Institutional and political support for the program
  • Pedestrians (especially the most vulnerable — children and seniors) are taught to walk safely
  • Motorists are taught to expect pedestrians on the roadway and know that they must yield to them
  • Publicity measures remind motorists of their responsibility for pedestrian safety (from media campaigns to appropriate signage at pedestrian crossings)
  • Yield-to-pedestrian ordinances are enforced consistently

Image:Dan Burden

Though increasing fines for failure to yield is not advised as a solitary first step, increasing fines on certain types of traffic violations may be used highlight a particular danger. By increasing the fine for "multiple-threat" failure to yield scenarios, one might be able to raise awareness and sensitivity to this highly lethal situation. For example, the City of San Francisco has a $380 fine for overtaking vehicles stopped for pedestrians, compared to the $146 fine for failing to yield at a crosswalk.

More information:

Effects of Innovative Pedestrian Signs at Unsignalized Locations (FHWA): http://www.tfhrc.gov/safety/pedbike/pubs/00-098.pdf

Crosswalk Confusion: More Evidence Why Pedestrian and Driver Knowledge of the Vehicle Code Should Not Be Assumed (TRB): http://trb.metapress.com/content/b1kn25n427865535/

Evaluation of the Miami-Dade Pedestrian Safety Demonstration Project (NHTSA): http://www.walkinginfo.org/library/details.cfm?id=4295

Courtesy Promotes Safety: Pedestrian Enforcement Program (Center for Education and Research in Safety): http://www.cers-safety.com/pep.htm

FAQ — How can my community improve yield-to-pedestrian compliance?: http://www.walkinginfo.org/faqs/answer.cfm?id=3921

Case studies: