HS investigates: One in five pedestrians crosses streets on red
Results come as no surprise to traffic police
Pedestrians in Helsinki walk across the street without a care, even when the lights are brazenly red.
This was the simple finding of some investigative journalism carried out by Helsingin Sanomat on Wednesday: in a test completed on the main Mannerheimintie artery in downtown Helsinki, one in five pedestrians was seen to be in the habit of crossing the street even when lights were against them.
The pedestrian crossing where the counting took place is situated on the corner of the Kaivokatu and Simonkatu streets next to the shopping mall Forum, between Lasipalatsi and the Sokos department store.
During the first test session between 8 am and 9 am, of the 1,385 pedestrians crossing the street, 279 did so while the lights were red.
Only those individuals who set their foot down on the street from the sidewalk after the lights had already turned red were interpreted as crossing on red. If the lights changed from green to red while the person was already crossing the street, the crossing was interpreted as legitimate.
A second count, carried out around midday, supported the findings of the first. Then, too, nearly one in five pedestrians (290/1,627) ran a red light.
The figures do not surprise Supt. Heikki Seppä, head of the Traffic Safety Unit of the Helsinki Police Department.
“In Helsinki, half of the traffic deaths happen to pedestrians. In every second case the victim walks against a red light or runs into the street and is hit by the oncoming traffic. Pedestrians should remember that it is their skin that is at stake.”
Last year there were 163 pedestrian accidents in Helsinki. The majority of them took place at pedestrian crossings.
In Helsinki, the pedestrian accidents have concentrated in the districts of Kluuvi, Kamppi, Hakaniemi, Vallila, and Itäkeskus.
For crossing on a red light one can theoretically receive a ten-euro traffic fine. In reality people seldom get fined, however. The sum is so small that issuing the fine is not worth the effort.
“At the National Audit Office of Finland, the bureaucrats would faint away if they discovered that the police were wasting resources on something like that”, Seppä says.
During the test Helsingin Sanomat noticed that those pedestrians crossing on red were a very varied bunch: adults, children, grandmas, grandpas, mothers pushing prams, teenagers, men in suits, and winos alike set off when they shouldn't.
More than once, when one pedestrian got tired of waiting for the lights to change and decided to cross on red, others followed.
Most people walked leisurely when crossing on red without any visible sense of hurry.
Even zigzagging between cars did not appear to faze the pedestrians.
When the morning rush hour traffic slowed to a crawl, some of the pedestrians waiting at the zebra crossing immediately set off across the street, threading their way through the cars.
One genuinely dangerous situation occurred during the observation, with a young woman running from between stationary cars right in front of a moving taxi. An emergency braking manoeuvre by the taxi-driver saved the woman from serious consequences.
In a couple of months, when morning streets can be slick with overnight frost, she might not be so lucky.
Lest the impression be given of unruly pedestrians and dutiful drivers, it is worth noting that in August of last year, Helsingin Sanomat carried out a similar study into how well drivers stop at red lights.
The test was performed at four pedestrian crossings in the capital, and showed that on every second red light, at least one car scuttled over the painted marks on the road after the red light had come on.
At one junction, seventeen drivers were seen running a red light over a pedestrian crossing in the space of half an hour.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Traffic discipline very slack in Helsinki (15.10.2007)
Danger lurks at pedestrian crossings - children at risk in Helsinki (16.8.2005)