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Speeding car vs. clueless human not a fair fight

Does everyone remember frogger?

That's the 1980s video game where players guided a blocky digitized amphibian across both a busy highway and a dangerous river to a nice, safe lily pad.

It's one of the classics, and arcades once clanged to the 16-bit boing-boing-splat as some poor unfortunate electronic frog got smoked by a pixelated big-rig on the first go. I remember it well.

Now, making the claim that Frogger was somehow educational is a bit of a . . . leap (sorry), but certainly what lessons there were to be taught by our little green electronic companion seem to have disappeared into the mists of time. To whit: nobody knows how to cross the road anymore.

Smart phones, iPods, hand-held video games and thumb-twisting text-a-thons: all the distractions of our modern age might have changed the old joke to, "Why did the chicken get squashed by the Number 99 B-Line?" We live in an era where the personal bubble surrounding each of us weaves blinkers out of text and e-mail and we just don't see the cars coming.

Pedestrians in Vancouver are probably the worst for this sort of behaviour. We jaywalk and step off the curb without double-checking and generally behave in an entitled manner that has visiting Europeans gasping. If you cross the road in Italy, someone WILL try to kill you with a ferociously buzzing tiny hatchback. Here though, we blithely wander out in front of jacked-up F-350s without making sure the driver sees us.

That's why the Vancouver Police Department is announcing the three-week long Pedestrian Enforcement Initiative (PEI?

Seriously? What, is Anne of Green Gables going to throw potatoes at offenders?). Expect a stepped-up police presence at dangerous intersections, and expect to see tickets handed out to pedestrians, cyclists and motorists who break the law. Pedestrian fatalities are up to nine already this year, a spike from just five last year, and the authorities are trying to figure out how to fix the problem.

Which brings this back around to my favourite theme: the issue of Road Rights versus Road Responsibilities. Right now, you may be thinking, "Well, that'll cure the loonies from running out in front of me." If only. As per usual, this campaign is on a very limited budget and will only raise awareness briefly.

The fact is, it falls to us, the motorists, to realize that we're in charge of two tonnes - or more - of death-dealing sheet-metal. Our responsibility is to be constantly expecting a pedestrian to do something unexpected and very, very stupid. Here's a hard rule: pedestrians always have the rightof-way. Always. Full stop. Even when they're in the wrong. ESPECIALLY when they're in the wrong.

And here's why. If you drive around with the inevitable attitude that yours is the most important journey that is occurring on a given day, you're going to be annoyed when somebody darts across the middle of the street. You're going to be aggravated by the stream of folks who leave the curb even after the light turns yellow, interrupting your left-hand turn. You're going to have to jam on the brakes for the guy who turn suddenly and heads out on the crosswalk at the last second.

You may even start thinking to yourself, when you hear of yet another "pedestrian fatality" that perhaps some of the responsibility should lie with the people that seem unable to stop putting themselves in harm's way. But let me squash that concept like an electric frog.

I hate the phrase "pedestrian fatality," though I've used it twice now on purpose. The better term is "death." Not "accident" or "collision," but "death." Somebody died because somebody made a poor decision and now a family has to live with their loss and a driver has to live with having killed someone, unintentionally or not.

What's more, if you're angry at all the scoff-laws who scurry all over the roads as if they own them, and you aren't driving in a manner that gives way to them, let me hit you with a hard reality. You're probably going to end up hitting someone, and statistically speaking, that person is going to be a child.

Most kids are idiots when it comes to road safety. I should know: I was one. Up until the age of nine, according to Safe Kids Canada, children don't fully use their peripheral vision and aren't well-trained at using crosswalks properly. They're small and can get hidden behind parked cars, and they run on ahead of their parents and out in front of you before you expect it.

I've often held the belief that our roads would be a better place if we all drove Lotus Super7s and Caterhams and other low-slung, roofless and doorless lightweight cars. We wouldn't be wrapped up in our protective metal cocoons and we'd be constantly aware of how dangerous a tool the motorcar is.

We'd roar up to the intersection, and even the guy listening to Motorhead on his earbuds would hear us coming. We'd make eye contact with the folks on the curb and our giant yellow blinkers would let everyone know what we're doing: "Hey guys, I'm turning right. Can I squeeze past you?"

After all, we're best-known as a polite society, why should that disappear when we get behind the wheel? It's summertime; turn off the A/C, roll down the windows and try to engage with your fellow road users. Check your side mirrors for cyclists. Make eye contact with pedestrians and ensure you both know what you're going to do next. Expect the unexpected.

Pedestrians, remember how vulnerable you are. "I had the Right Of Way" makes a lousy tombstone. Drivers, remember that you're the biggest thing on the road, but that means you have to watch out for others. You don't want to have to live with the alternative.

Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. If you have a suggestion for a column, or would be interested in having your car club featured, please contact him at mcaleeronwheels@ Follow Brendan on Twitter: @brendan_mcaleer.