Dallas Pedestrians Are Not Human Squirrels

A stylized picture of a pedestrian, which you are not allowed to hit with your car.
A stylized picture of a pedestrian, which you are not allowed to hit with your car.

Anyone who's driven in Dallas for more than a few years has this experience. There you are, absent-mindedly piloting your automobile down a city street — likely one you've traversed unmolested every day for months — when you are stopped short by a peculiar sight. There, plodding across the intersecting street, is some sort of hairless, bipedal creature that appears to be propelling itself through the city without the aid of motorized transport.

The creature is known as a "pedestrian," and its sudden appearance in the path of a motor vehicle poses a conundrum for unsuspecting drivers. Do I hit it? drivers often ask themselves. If so, do I get points? If not, how hard do I have to try to avoid it? In other words, are pedestrians more like squirrels (cute but expendable) or  unicorns (majestic and not to be harmed unless you're really in a hurry)?

These are all important questions — too important to be decided in the few seconds between the creature's appearance and its possible demise beneath your front fender. Which is why, below, the Observer has compiled a detailed guide to car-pedestrian interactions in Dallas.

We recognize that this is new, challenging stuff for most Dallas drivers, so we've created the guide in a format that can be printed and stuffed in a glove compartment — or pulled up on a smartphone — for quick consultation in case of heat-of-the-moment confusion.

1. OK, so tell me more about this 'pedestrian' creature?
Most people are at least passingly familiar with the theory of human evolution. A few million years ago, proto-humans diverged from their primate cousins. Over the subsequent millennia, natural selection honed the gene pool, leading to larger brains, straighter backs, and eventually, a century or so ago, the apotheosis of the evolutionary process, the automobile driver. Scientists have confirmed much of this through the fossil record and genetic research.

That's not the whole story, however. In the 200,000 or so years leading up to the appearance of the automobile driver, the planet came to be dominated by what scientists refer to as homo sapiens sapiens or modern humans. These hairless primates had no motorized transport and walked upright on two feet. They were, in other words, pedestrians.

The trajectory of human evolution is illustrated in a famous chart, which we have altered to identify the primitive pedestrian iteration of mankind:

Before the evolution of the automobile driver, there was the pedestrian.EXPAND
Before the evolution of the automobile driver, there was the pedestrian.
Photo illustration by Eric Nicholson

Not everyone buys evolution, of course, which is fine. Scholars have exhaustively documented that Jesus was a pedestrian:

It's true — Jesus was a pedestrian.
It's true — Jesus was a pedestrian.

2. Why don't they drive?
When automobile drivers evolved from pedestrians, some places had to be retrofitted for the new world, but newer cities like Dallas were expressly designed and built to accommodate the automobile driver and, by extension, bring an end to pedestrians' continued, smug existence.

And yet pedestrians have proved wily enough to survive and sometimes successfully coexist with automobile drivers, even in Dallas. What gives?

The temptation among many drivers is to dismiss bipedal locomotion — walking — as the result of pedestrian brains being too primitive to fully comprehend the wonders of motored transport, but in reality, pedestrians often have very good reasons for refusing to evolve. Some can't afford cars, which are expensive. Some can but choose not to buy them because they dislike traffic, are concerned about driving's environmental impact, or are the Beatles and just want to make a iconic album cover:

The Beatles, like Jesus, were pedestrians.
The Beatles, like Jesus, were pedestrians.
Iain Macmillan

In any event, pedestrians don't look like they are disappearing anytime soon.

3. Can I hit them?
Contrary to popular belief and understandable sentiment, no. The reason has a lot to do with Isaac Newton's laws of motion, particularly the second which, translated from the Latin, reads:

The alteration of motion is ever proportional to the motive force impress'd; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impress'd.

In high school physics shorthand, this is typically expressed as "force equals mass times acceleration," or, simply, F=ma. Without going too deep into the math, what this means is that if a two-ton vehicle barreling down the road collides with a 150-pound pedestrian moving at three miles per hour, bad things will happen to the pedestrian.

Here's an illustration:

An artist's rendering of what happens when car and pedestrian collide.
An artist's rendering of what happens when car and pedestrian collide.

3A. So what?
Texans have a long and proud history of killing things for sport, including deer, alligators, wild boar, and, on occasion, endangered black rhinoceros. In the eyes of the law, pedestrians are endowed with all the rights and protections afforded to car-driving human beings. Killing them, in other words, is illegal, at least when it's on purpose. Also, morally speaking, it's kind of a dick move. 

3B. What if I'm in a hurry?
Still no. Both Newton's and Texas law apply even when you're in a hurry.

4. OK, so what do I do if they're in my way?

A tempting target. Don't do it.EXPAND
A tempting target. Don't do it.
Charley Lhasa

The best way to avoid killing pedestrians is to brake — and possibly even come to a full stop — when one crosses your path. This can seem like an aggravating waste of time and even an affront to evolutionary principle. After all, isn't the death of a pedestrian at the hands of an automobile driver really just natural selection at work? Yet Texas law typically sides with the pedestrian.

Most of the relevant regulations by reading Chapter 552 of the Texas Transportation Code, which is simply titled "Pedestrians," but we'll highlight a couple of points that drivers find most confounding.

Imagine that you are coming to an intersection at which you intend to turn right. The stoplight is green, but so is the walk signal, and a pedestrian has just stepped right where you intend to turn. The typical Dallas automobile driver assumes that, because their vehicle is considerably larger and faster than the pedestrian, it automatically gets dibs.

Not so. In fact, Texas law states the opposite, that the pedestrian has the right of way. That's even true if the "Don't Walk" signal starts flashing while they're still in the roadway:

Sec. 552.002. PEDESTRIAN RIGHT-OF-WAY IF CONTROL SIGNAL PRESENT. (a) A pedestrian control signal displaying "Walk," "Don't Walk," or "Wait" applies to a pedestrian as provided by this section. (b) A pedestrian facing a "Walk" signal may proceed across a roadway in the direction of the signal, and the operator of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to the pedestrian. (c) A pedestrian may not start to cross a roadway in the direction of a "Don't Walk" signal or a "Wait" signal. A pedestrian who has partially crossed while the "Walk" signal is displayed shall proceed to a sidewalk or safety island while the "Don't Walk" signal or "Wait" signal is displayed.

The same principle holds in areas where there's a crosswalk but no traffic signal:

Sec. 552.003. PEDESTRIAN RIGHT-OF-WAY AT CROSSWALK. (a) The operator of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing a roadway in a crosswalk if: (1) no traffic control signal is in place or in operation; and (2) the pedestrian is (A) on the half of the roadway in which the vehicle is traveling; or (B) approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.

In places where the exit from a driveway or parking lot is interrupted by a sidewalk, automobile drivers also have to yield to pedestrians:

Sec. 552.006. USE OF SIDEWALK. (c) The operator of a vehicle emerging from or entering an alley, building, or private road or driveway shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian approaching on a sidewalk extending across the alley, building entrance or exit, road, or driveway.

4A. So they're fair game if they're not in the crosswalk then?
No. Not only do automobile drivers have to refrain from running over pedestrians in designated areas, they have an affirmative duty to try to avoid running over all pedestrians, even those too young, lame, or inattentive to properly cross the street:

Sec. 552.008. DRIVERS TO EXERCISE DUE CARE. Notwithstanding another provision of this chapter, the operator of a vehicle shall: (1) exercise due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian on a roadway; (2) give warning by sounding the horn when necessary; and (3) exercise proper precaution on observing a child or an obviously confused or incapacitated person on a roadway.

5. What happens if I hit them anyways?
Texas takes car-pedestrian accidents very seriously. Failing to yield right-of-way to a pedestrian is a class C misdemeanor that carries with it a stiff penalty of between $1 and $200, plus court costs. The penalty is even stiffer — up to $500 and 30 hours of community service — if the pedestrian dies, so long as the pedestrian is blind or disabled.

Of course, if you run someone over on purpose, you can be charged with murder (the pedestrian dies) or aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (pedestrian is seriously injured). If it's an accident and the pedestrian was in a crosswalk, prosecutors might charge you with  automobile driver who runs over a pedestrian in a crosswalk with criminal negligence or, if you drive off, with leaving the scene of an accident. But they probably won't.

Still, a failing-to-yield ticket in Dallas will set you back $266.10, which is a lot of money. Sort of. To an 8-year-old.

6. Hold on, Just $266.10? Tell me again why I shouldn't run over pedestrians?
They are rare, magical creatures, sort of like baby unicorns. If you kill one, its blood will stain your fender forever. Metaphorically. Unless you're a sociopath.


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