Why I don’t jaywalk
One of the myths I had believed before moving to Germany is that Germans don’t jaywalk, just like they don’t make loud noise on Sunday. It didn’t turn out to be quite the truth, at least not in Hamburg or Berlin. People jaywalk all the time. People having started crossing a busy street and been stuck in the middle isn’t a rare sight. I have even seen police officers jaywalk on several occasions.
And I do understand why people jaywalk. It feels pointless to stand and wait for the light to turn green when there’s no vehicular traffic. Or you may want to catch the bus that just stopped on the other side of the road. Or the zebra crossing nearest to you might be 100m away when you just want to go to the shop on the other side of the road. In fact, I have jaywalked on many occasions in the past, in Japan, and in Germany.
However, in recent years I’ve stopped jaywalking for a simple reason.
The time you save by jaywalking isn’t worth the risk
I’m not talking about threading your way through busy traffic. I’m talking about when there are no moving vehicles to be seen around. So why?
Well, I don’t think victims of traffic accidents thought “oh, there’s a car approaching. I’m gonna jump right in front of it and get hit” and did exactly that, except for maybe people with suicidal thoughts or insurance scammers.
People get hit by vehicles not because they intended to, but because they simply overlooked approaching vehicles, or because they didn’t recognize the vehicles despite having seen them. You are most certainly not seeing everything around you. Can you tell the time displayed on your phone or laptop, without focusing on it now? And even if you are seeing most things on the road, you may not necessarily recognize everything that’s happening.
The video above is basically what I mean. Did you recognize the gorilla walking across? You were most certainly seeing it, but probably didn’t recognize it (that is, if it was your first time watching the video).
On the road, you may not be aware of a previously parked vehicle that just started moving, or a vehicle approaching you that came out of a side road you didn’t know existed, or a vehicle driving the wrong way, because you don’t typically look for those when you attempt to cross a street. Also, when you are feeling tired or deeply thinking about something, your situational awareness becomes even less reliable.
Yes, it’s possible that a car runs red light while you’re crossing on the green. You cannot completely eliminate the chance of being hit. The biggest danger on the road probably is those who do not care about the rules and drive at excessive speed or perform an illegal maneuver, or those who are impaired by drugs and the likes. And we cannot completely eliminate them from the road. That’s why I carefully look around even when it’s green for me. But, as most drivers respect traffic lights, you following the traffic light as a pedestrian will reduce the chance of being hit.
And really, how much time do you save by jaywalking? Perhaps half a minute at a time, several minutes a day. Time is important, but if your time is so valuable that you cannot spend several minutes waiting at crossings, the consequences of you being hit by a car and hospitalized for days or weeks, or worse, dead, must be catastrophic.