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6,000 bicyclists and pedestrians are killed in traffic every year

The Psychology of Pedestrian Rage 

 Dr. Leon James

Pedestrian rage is occasioned in most pedestrians when the others sharing the walkway ignore the rights of other pedestrians. If you observe pedestrian behavior in crowded places you can notice that about 20 percent of the users break various pedestrian norms. For example, they walk "upstream" to the flow of pedestrian traffic, which almost always goes by the norm "Walk on the right. Pass on the left, then hold to the right again."

People are used to this pattern, but there are conditions that make them forget, as for instance when they walk in a group, when they don't know where they are going, when they are foreign and use the wrong norms, etc. 

The solution to pedestrian rage is to teach people how to a be a supportive pedestrian, which is a peaceful, non-competitive, and cooperative way of managing one's legs and body. Bumping into another pedestrian is an act of violence, sometimes premeditated. Some people perversely enjoy bothering others -- walking in opposition, talking out loud on the cell phone in crowded places, not adjusting their behavior to the convenience of others, etc. In order for this change in pedestrian personality to happen realistically we need to start teaching pedestrian norms to children in kindergarten, and every year thereafter.

Please view this article:

Drivers Against Pedestrians. Article by Leon James and Diane Nahl (2000).

Articles on the Web about Pedestrians

Rages in general:

Observations on pedestrians by students of Dr. Leon James:

  1. http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/leonj/leonpsy/psy459a/takitani/labreport.html#Part%20B

  2. http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/409as2001/ono/pedestrianrage.htm

  3. http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/409as2001/ono/2pedestrianrage.htm

  4. http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/409as2001/shari/pedestrian_rage.htm

  5. http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/409as2001/shari/new_page_2.htm

  6. http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/409as2001/shari/new_page_1.htm

  7. http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/leonj/409bs2000/chang/report1.html

How to Avoid Pedestrian Rage

Stress-free, friendly, and safe crossing. How do we get to it?
  • First, we resist blaming drivers and their shortcomings.

  • Second, we examine how we ourselves contribute to the stress and danger of street crossing.

  • Third, and finally, we use safe crossing techniques.

Result: reduced stress, greater safety, more civility or mutual support..


"Why should I resist blaming idiot drivers who endanger my life because they're too stupid to be aware of pedestrians in crosswalks?"

This illustrates a pedestrian attitude problem that has gotten thousands of pedestrians killed or injured last year, and again as many this year.


Make yourself face this: getting angry is stress producing. Who is making you angry?

That driver you call "idiot"? No. Wrong theory.

You are making yourself angry over that driver's behavior or mentality.

Therefore: It is you who is pumping up the stress by mentally churning up your emotions through the venting you're doing.

Venting your anger means feeling indignant at the driver, and wanting the driver to know that you're displeased, mad, shocked, or scared.

You can tell yourself this: it's worth giving up venting so that you can reduce your stress. Medical research shows that the stress from venting weakens your body's resistance to getting sick.

Equally important, giving up venting at drivers will improve your reasoning process about what's going on. You will reduce the risk of suddenly acting out and getting into serious trouble.

Giving up venting is not easy, even after you decide you want to. One trick I recommend:


I call this the Castanza Technique after George in one Seinfeld episode decided to say and act the opposite of what he thinks. All of a sudden everybody liked him and he was very pleased.

Try this advice and you will be convinced that it works:

The Way you Walk is Contagious -- Smile and they smile with you!

Your walking stress will be reduced if you don't vent your anger. By not venting, you discover alternative ways of handling normal pedestrian situations. You're happier, safer, and others are more happy with you!

At the same time you must walk with prudence and rationality:

Look before you step off the curb. Warn yourself that you are now entering a life threatening danger zone. Put on the weapons of intelligence to fight against this danger. Look to the left, look to the right. Now decide to step into the danger zone, or not yet.

You're walking in a marked area. The law says drivers must stop for you. No ambiguity about it. Whatever you do as a pedestrian in the danger zone, you have the right of way. And yet thousands of pedestrians get killed every year. This proves you cannot rely on the law to guarantee the driver's behavior.

You must rely on your own prudence and rationality.

Monitor your thoughts when crossing. Some pedestrians seem to look down as they walk in the marked crosswalk. Cars are approaching and they do not look at them. They just look down, expecting the driver to stop. Some pedestrians notice the cars approaching, but they continue walking slowly as if they are alone in their back yard. They act out ignoring the cars. This is pedestrian rage. It's passive aggressive pedestrian rage.

When cars approach you it's more intelligent and rational to hurry up. Motorists want to see pedestrians hurry up when the car is waiting before the marked crosswalk. By appearing to ignore the waiting cars, pedestrians intend to annoy the drivers. That's why it's called aggressive. It is also risky and dangerous. Remember the thousands of pedestrians that get hit by cars every year. See this statistical report for the facts. Quoting selectively from this report:

America’s Dangerous Streets

Each year, thousands of Americans are killed and tens of thousands are injured walking down the street. In 1997 and 1998, 10,696 pedestrians in the U.S. were killed in traffic accidents (5,406 in 1997 and 5,291 in 1998). More than 1,500 of these victims were children under the age of eighteen. In comparison with other ways of getting around, walking is particularly risky. While Americans took less than six percent of their trips on foot, almost thirteen percent of all traffic deaths were pedestrians.

And walking is far more dangerous than driving or flying, per mile traveled. The fatality rate per 100 million miles traveled was 1.4 deaths among automobile users, and 0.16 deaths among people aboard airplanes. But almost 50 pedestrians died for every 100 million miles walked in 1997. This means that for each mile traveled, walking is 36 times more dangerous than driving, and over 300 times more dangerous than flying.

See Table 1. The Most Dangerous Large Metro Areas for Pedestrians here.

Figure 1. Where Pedestrians Are Killed

Who Is at Risk?

Children deserve particular attention when considering pedestrian safety, (Table 2) because they rely more heavily than adults on walking to get where they need to go. In 1997 - 1998, sixteen percent of pedestrian deaths were people under 18 years old. Challenging street crossings that involve high speeds and many lanes of traffic can be particularly hard for young children.

For children, the states with the highest death rate(5) were South Carolina, Mississippi, Utah, North Carolina, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Alaska, and Louisiana. Most of these states are in the South and West, where automobile-centered development has been the strongest.

In addition, elderly people face a higher risk of death as pedestrians. Twenty-two percent of all pedestrians killed were over 65, even though only 13 percent of the population is elderly. Many pedestrian facilities, particularly walk signals, are timed for use by young adults in good health, and don’t give elderly people enough time to cross in safety.

The deadly environment for pedestrians in the United States is not just an inevitable consequence of modern life. Pedestrian fatality rates in the United States are far higher than in other industrialized countries. A recent study compared pedestrian fatalities in terms of the total distance walked. In both Germany and the Netherlands the rate was 26 deaths per billion kilometers walked, while in the United States the rate was 364 deaths per billion kilometers walked — or fourteen times greater.(11) This indicates that much more can be done to make walking safer.


The absolute number of pedestrian deaths has dropped slightly, part of an overall decline in traffic deaths. However, the decline in deaths among pedestrians tells a different story than the decline in deaths among motorists. For motorists, deaths are falling as driving increases, while for pedestrians, deaths are falling as walking decreases. In other words, it looks as if driving is getting safer per mile while walking is not.

There are several possible explanations for this, including the increasingly sprawling and pedestrian unfriendly nature of much new development, and the disproportionately low expenditure of federal transportation funds on projects that lessen the risks to pedestrians. These topics will be explored in greater detail in Chapter Three. And as the next chapter demonstrates, the trend toward less walking has effects on human health that reach beyond death and injury rates.

More Information on Pedestrian Safety

See this checklist for your community: 
Walkable America Checklist: How Walkable Is Your Community?

Perils for Pedestrians is the monthly cable television series that promotes safety for people who walk.

See a directory of newspaper articles on pedestrian safety: here.

Pedestrian Safety Advice from the Government  -- NHTSA.

Google News on pedestrians: here.




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Pedestrian Rage  | Safety of Pedestrians  | Safe Routes Program | Drivers Against Pedestrians | Bicycling and Motorcycling |