FREAK Shots: Blame It on the Moon

Who (or what) should you blame if you get hit by a car?

Costa Rica’s traffic police fault “imprudent” pedestrians (who ignore traffic signals and don’t use overhead passes) for the country’s 33 pedestrian deaths this year.

Researchers at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute say you can blame the moon — at least during part of its cycle. Their study found that more pedestrians are killed in traffic on nights when there’s a new moon.

You can even blame the changing seasons, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon scientists which found that pedestrians walking around during rush hour are three times more likely to be hit by a car in the weeks after daylight savings.

This sign at a crosswalk in Seattle does a good job of placing the responsibility back on the pedestrian (and his athletic ability):



@2 Frankly, overhead passes should rarely, if ever, be used. They marginalize the pedestrian, when the aim of an urban area should be to do the exact opposite.


Don't forget to state assumptions when championing a cold blooded rational argument. The only reason deadly crashes "must" or "will" occur at a particular intersection is that heavy, imperfect machinery is being operated there by imperfect civilians (of questionable training, especially in some parts). Leaving aside the lark of universality, it is perfectly reasonable to question whether passenger cars should even be traversing a particular intersection and street where pedestrian fatalities are common (dense quarters of dense cities). In many such cases, the answer has been found to be no (i.e., pedestrian streets do exist). In other cases the answer has been, yes, but we'll limit motorist speed and behavior by design. In still other cases (most American cities and towns) the question has been deemed to ridiculous to ask, and every opportunity is taken to blame dead pedestrians, or, when a law abiding ped can't be blamed, write off the crash as inevitable.



Matthew, my point was, I hope, a bit more subtle: accidents must occur. Though you can investigate each one and perhaps determine fault - or at least allocate relative fault - you can't eliminate accidents. So if you can't eliminate accidents, then while you can fault someone at the individual level, what does fault mean when you realize that accidents have to happen and have to happen to someone. Fault implies that we can eliminate accidents, when all we can do is devise systems that minimize. Imagine then a system that truly does minimize. Accidents will still occur because people and systems can't be perfect, which means that even though you can fault Bozo the pedestrian at that level of the individual accident, if you look at the larger picture you see that Bozo is largely a victim of chance, that something bad happened to Bozo just because.


If you read Jack Canfield "you are responsible for everything that happens to you"...

I don't know why the moon or weather figures in - perhaps just a coincidence?



Maybe accidents occur during the new moon because it's darker?

Joe D

Funny thing. I just spent over two weeks in Austria this summer. The germanic countries (I've heard this is similar in Germany) appear to have a strong social compact: pedestrians cross at the marked crosswalks (with the light, if they have one) with no fear, none, of being struck. Cars stopped if I even leaned towards the street at a crosswalk. Perhaps there are stiff penalties for hitting a pedestrian in a crosswalk? But heaven help the jaywalker, because those cars aren't stopping (and I've heard the police aggressively ticket jaywalkers, too).

It's different here in the states, although we're required to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians in crosswalks, as well: peds won't step into the crosswalk until they're sure the car will stop, and the car won't stop (or even slow, sometimes) until the ped actually steps into the street. And yet it's my responsibility to stop for a pedestrian in the street, jaywalking even though it's less than fifty feet to the marked crosswalk. Why bother with crosswalks if the social compact, weak though it is, doesn't differentiate?



I'd say Daylight Saving (no S) Time isn't a result of changing seasons. It's just an antiquated policy that has become the standard.

Nathan Robertson

Yeah, right. And business cycles are correlated with sunspots.


The rainy season?

Well, just "blame it on the rain" then :D


We look for fault because, while sometimes it is a true accident (as in neither party acted negligently or otherwise without proper care), more often someone didn't exercise the proper care. This is the case with any jaywalking pedestrian, or any speeding car, for example.

In short, your assumption is completely, 100% wrong: it is entirely false that some accidents -must- occur. Accidents will occur, but not because they are required. Accidents will occur because people will consistently make bad choices and estimations about the risk of their actions, and as a result eventually someone will have to pay a costly price. If you speed, you're making an estimation and choice about the likelihood not only of a speeding ticket, but that you'll encounter a situation where your excess speed results in an accident. The same is true when you jaywalk.


Umm, could it perhaps (sometimes, at least) be the fault of the person driving the car?


@1: I like your reasoning except the last line.

How about "... some accidents *will* occur?"?


Everyone knows it is GW Bush's fault...

Jason B

@12 thank you for finally getting to the "correlation vs causation" argument. I would be disappointed if some poster hadn't done so!


Cripes, have you ever been a pedestrian in Costa Rica? It isn't as if you're safer even if you do cross in a crosswalk with a light - it just means they don't blame you when you die.


I would tend to agree with the Costa Rican policemen especially when the same case happens here in the Philippines. People forget to use the overhead passes even though it is right above them. But the study does make me think twice, maybe blame the moon. Hmmm.


Is blame always necessary? Not long ago and still in most of the world, the night is dark, sometimes impenetrably so, and accidents happen, meaning that if you took an aggregate number of trips at night then some will end in accidents so you could predict the number of fatalities. Roads are often bad or conditions make it hard to see - from a tree that blocks signs or a view to winding curves to livestock in the way to glare, etc.

To me, an interesting point in that is this: given natural variance in conditions, then a certain number of accidents will happen in a given population for a given activity. We calculate stuff like this all the time, like the relative dangerousness of occupations. In other words, while we may look at any individual accident and see fault in one direction or the other, the reality is that we can't eliminate accidents. We can reduce accidents to some level for that system but everything we know about variation and randomness says they'll still happen. We see this in manufacturing in a different way, that we can ratchet up tolerances to finer levels as we improve the system but we still have variation around that tolerance. Since gross activities are by definition on a larger scale than fabbing microchips, the tolerance limit will be higher and variation will be noticeable in visible accidents.

We might ask: what is "fault" if we know absolutely beyond any doubt that some accidents must occur?


G. Owen Schaefer

Just have to say, that is the most hilarious photo I've seen all year.


More accidents of ALL kinds happen during the days after Daylight Savings Time goes into effect because people are still lagging from that hour of sleep they missed.

Henry T Wijaya

Is this an economic question or legal question?

In Australia, just like in most western developed countries, pedestrian seems to be have the right of way over vehicles, especially at marked crossroads.

When I return to Indonesia, it's the other way round. Pedestrian have to stop for vehicles. Since there are very few marked crossroads & the distance between one and the other are far & Indonesians tend to want things to be easy, prefer to jaywalk. It irritates me and gave me the thought that if the jaywalkers were hit by vehicles, they shouldn't have the right to blame the drivers.

But, what if the driver has malice intent?

So whose fault? It's hard to simply make a general rule.

PS. In Indonesia, the 'rule' is, one who owns the car will always lose-as in drivers have to compensate.