In a world of smartphones, should pedestrians have fewer rights?

Pedestrian deaths plummeted from 6,482 to 4,109 from 1990 to 2009, federal figures show.

Fatalities then rose 45% from 2009 to 2017.

Link here.  Who is the least cost avoider here?  Here is my earlier post on liability and United Airlines.  And here is another Coasean parable: “Guy Asks If He’s Wrong To Make Obese Man Pay Him $150 For Taking Up Part Of His Seat On A 5-Hour Flight.”


I wish they'd just make bigger seats, even if it meant ticket prices went up somewhat. Something like 40% of American adults are obese - that's nearly half the potential customer base struggling to stay confined into their own seat.

In fact airline behavior in an oligopolistic situation is exactly where Coasean bargaining would be expected to fail. This makes regulation a more plausible and economically consistent proposition than in other cases.

Make the airplane door(s) the width as the seat. That way everyone who gets on will fit into his or her seat. (Similarly with subway turnstiles, etc.)

This will not prevent thigh spillage. The scourge of our skies.

I am surprised that airlines don't offer a variety of seat splits.

You could imagine a block of seats where 3-seat half-rows are replaced with 1.5x/1.5x splits, followed by a block of seats at a 1.3x/1.7x split, followed by regular 3-seat rows. With prices scaled up by those factors - the airline should actually make a touch more money per sqft of space given that per-passenger overhead should be relatively constant.

But our only option is to buy a heavyweight class upgrade with a price increase significantly higher than linear scaling. The obvious answer is that the airline makes more money by selling biz class above cost to high-end customers than they'd make by selling bigger seats at sqft pricing to the price-sensitive. A lot of biz class customers would probably drop down to the 1.5x seats because the rest of the perks aren't worth the extra 50-150% on top of that unless you're very well-off.

Does it matter that he's fat as opposed to merely very tall? My shoulders are overwhelmingly the largest part of my body. I could still stand to lose a few lbs.

There is no physical way I can fit fully within the confines of a coach seat. None. A substantial fraction of adult males are in the same situation. Should we all have to buy two seats or are airlines shifting costs to larger than average people effectively discriminating against tall people?

If you don't have to buy more seat(s) then the airline is discriminating against the small person by making them give up their armrest, etc.

The airline chooses the dimensions of the seats. Presumably, if they shrink the seats enough, then a large number of people will have to purchase additional seats or pay for a premium class of service.

This ultimately acts as a tax on people who are taller than average because we subsidize ever shrinking basic economy seats.

As is, it causes enormous physical discomfort for me, and literally everyone else I know over 5 foot 10, to sit in an ordinary economy class seat.

The reality is that airlines are in effect taxing people based on a physical characteristic they have no control over. It would be considered outrageous if that physical characteristic were something like race, sex or age. Why is height different?

Arguably being fat is differentiable because you have some control over it. I cannot choose to "fold up" for 8 hours at time.

Are you sure you want to go down that road?

I actually had seen the paper where Mankiw finds the Pigovian tax framework implies taxes for tall people. I also recall he regarded it as a reductio ad absurdem for the framework.

Here is my proposal. If car manufacturers, airlines and bed manufacturers are forced to accommodate tall people in equal comfort to short people, I will pay the tax.

The specific issue of airlines is interesting because there actually is a legally mandated minimum dimension. It is set well below a size I find comfortable. I do think it is fair to ask whether that is fair. I am asking.

Paradoxically, you are making the case that disparate impact is generally a stupid idea. As Ricardo notes, taller people--especially taller men--also benefit from their height in all sorts of ways

Correct, you could regard my complaint as essentially unreasonable and therefore exposing some kind of flaw in how society thinks about differential impact.

You could also think of it as an interesting question of the intended goal of regulation given that there are tons of cabin space regulations. Airline seats are far from an unfettered free market. If we removed all restrictions on seat space and seats became small enough you found them uncomfortable, would that be fair (I assume you don’t find them uncomfortable now)? What limits, if any, can society legitimately impose on airline’s ability to price discriminate by selling upgrades some require to avoid pain? Should I be entitled to a dose of morphine before I’m on a flight to avoid pain from flying?

These are all questions. I have no good answer.

I think airlines have realised that for most people price is more important than a bit of comfort and there is no point in offering an increase in seat size because most people won’t pay for it. I find it amusing that you mention the lack of a feee market in seats as the source of the problem and then propose a regulated solution, that to me sounds contradictory.

My argument is more that we presently have a regulated solution that is bad for me than that we should have a fully free market solution. If you wanted a fully free market solution we could try that but it’s not the status quo.

Part of the issue is that airlines have been allowed to consolidate into an oligopoly.

Also, to be clear, I am aware that race, age and sex are legally protected classes while height (except for people who are short enough to be disabled) is not. While I acknowledge this is a valid legal argument, it is not a particularly persuasive economic or moral one to me.

To be provocative, why should disabled passengers get to cut lines at airport security, cut lines for shuttles to rental car pickup locations and get early boarding without paying for any of it? If I want those privileges I need to pay more for them. All would make my life better.

Last thought, the published policies only contemplate belly girth. They do not contemplate shoulder width in any clear way. The property right created by a seat is sufficiently amorphous I am not sure my shoulders are covered and if anyone ever asked me to move I would explain the same, decline to move and demand a written justification for it if the airline insists I move.

I am oversized in both shoulder and belly dimensions in an ordinary coach seat and I'm not really that big. Just kinda big.

The varied seat-split solution seems best to me. I would pay extra for a 1.33 x or 1.5 x wide seat in coach. (What I wind up usually doing is flying first class.)

Why don't they offer this? When you see an economic situation that doesn't make sense, you should look for the law or regulation that caused it. I would start there.

The fact that a technical solution to limit the use of a cell phone from the drivers seat has never been brought up as a serious option is ludicrous to me at this point.

How much of this is a problem of distracted drivers vs distracted pedestrians? And how much of the driver distraction is caused by modern 'infotainment' systems that require use of touch screen where older cars had buttons and knobs for the same functions?


According to my modern understanding of right-of-way law, the higher liability and burden is on the driver always. Period. Yes pedestrians can be quite dumb, but they are fairly well inoculated under statute, precedence and common law from their dumbness when its vs. a vehicle of any kind.

Yeah, some of those touch screens really are not easy to use.

1. It has been brought up as an option.

2. Its not technically feasible to differentiate between a phone in the driver's seat and one in the passenger seat. Or even one held by the driver over the center console.

The only thing to do would be to forcibly disable all phones moving at more than 5 miles an hour. ALL PHONES. Yes, even the tablets the kids have in the back seat to keep them occupied. Yes, even your hands-free setup.

I don't think it's a good idea to limit the use of phones while driving.

BUT, it should be a standard procedure to access the cell phone log and the car "black box" to check if the driver was distracted when the accident happened. Car data recorders became mandatory on Sep 2014.

I'm sure insurance companies will become more interested in the link between phones and accidents once data is available.

Such is life in Obama-Trump's America.

Wow! The bot has mutated!

"Fatalities then rose 45% from 2009 to 2017."

I wonder how this this period is different from 1990 to 2008.

Smartphones. Must not have them in Brazil, as that is not a country known for smarts.

Brazil has smarts, has phones (Brazil's Emperor Peter II promoted Graham Bell's invention; he was one of the few men in the world to use the telephone) and has smartphones.

The difference is neither Obama nor Trump was president before 2009.

Thank you for providing evidence for my claim.

I really don't see you point.

Of course you don't. More evidence there too.

Quite the opposite.

Was emperor pete twice running the show when Paraguay stomped the shit out of brazil? Uruguay did the same and if there were any other -guays in SA they would have too. Maybe brazil could become a dependency of Surinam

Brazil crushed Paraguay. Brazil killed 90% of its male population.

Which it why it surprised President Harrison when Benjy's Boys easily sacked Rio and killed Fonseca in 1891.

Verizon offers a device, called Hum, that among other things disables your smart phone while you are driving. You cannot receive or send texts, answer or make a call, read email, it's locked. Sure, one can override Hum, but why? In some states, it's illegal to use a smart phone, or even touch the thing, while driving. What people do is mount the phone on the dash and make or receives calls via voice. I cycle on the road, and the times I have come close to being hit, the driver is using her cell phone. It's not as though people don't know the risk of using the phone while driving. The smart phone addiction is so strong that people will risk harm to themselves and others. It's a drug and should be treated as one.

>It's a drug and should be treated as one.

We're all glad you are not in charge of anything.

Because the way we treat drugs and drug addiction has not only had so little collateral damage its been extremely successful at reducing drug use and drug addiction?

Jesus man. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.

Funny how Tyler automatically blames the pedestrians here, and not the drivers who are always on their phones, and increasingly jumping curbs.

Such is life in Cowen's America.

Cowen just asked the question. If the goal is to maximize total output/utility/well-being/etc, who should be given priority: the smart phone user or the pedestrian? Your problem is that you have no imagination and take everything you read here literally, including my own comment that the smart phone is a drug and should be treated as such. But you are not alone.

I don’t take you seriously or literally.

(I do take Cowen seriously. I assume he was being facetious.)

We are not just historical objects hurtling along! A writer does not make historical associations, a mathematician does not solve for the thing itself, a painter works in the realm of heartache--it's beautiful!! A writer alludes to ethics and a great writer explains the nature of man. The nature of man!! Virgil and Homer were two of the most important to ever live, and the population has increased 1000%...what is the nature of man? It's marriage! And for those humorists who come every once and again it's mirage--man merchant and aid ((as one thing!!!))

"Such is life in Cowen's America", which Trump's America, America of hollowing America's economy, America of malefactors of great wealth, America under Chinese control.

In Trump's America, both sides are at fault. Both sides.

Because there are fine people in both sides.

Its like when George Soros and Peter Thiel get together in bipartisan spirit to play finance [2] or buy out Jared Kushner [1]. Fine people on both sides.



Such is life in Trump's America.

One of the top comments on the plane flight reddit thread:

"While this situation may have economically been “fair”, it doesn’t mean you were in the right. You are definitely an asshole. Absolutely. There was no way for this situation to be fair, without you being an asshole. In order for you to be the nice guy here, you would have had to given up your comfort (and paid for it). That’s just how it is. You’re not a nice person in this situation. And that is exactly what you came here for- you came to ask if you’re an asshole. The answer is yes, you’re an asshole. You’re an asshole who rectified a situation for economic fairness, you’re an asshole who is comfortable with how he handled the situation. You’re an asshole who would probably do this again if the situation ever presented itself. And that’s fine, you’re entitled to do whatever you want, but you asked if you were an asshole, so we’re answering: yes you’re an asshole."

Wow. So the fat dude isn't an asshole? That poster thinks he bears no responsibility? That he should bear no costs for his life choices? That others should lose quality of life so he can maintain his?

Frankly, and I say this as a fat dude, the fat dude is, IMO, the asshole here.

He may be. However, “Who’s the asshole, here?” isn’t a zero-sum game. In fact, what makes assholism so problematic is that it’s often anosognosic: the same conditions that make otherwise well-behaved people become assholes—e.g, irritation, discomfort, other assholes, a sense of self-righteousness, etc.—prevent them from feeling like they’re being assholes. Indeed, MRI scans of asshole brains reveal the entire self-reflection part of the brain is inactive, while the special pleading part of the brain is in overdrive.

Let me guess, this was the most upvoted comment on that subreddit? I am reminded why I so rarely look at Reddit anymore, people patting each other on the back for a fleeting karma boost.

Thats why you should come to r/The_Donald

It's better than you think it would be.


Nah, they ban and mod hard. Emotional, unable to take a joke, thin skinned just like their Dear Leader. A sub that can't take an edgy joke or two that goes against the grain is a loser sub to me. That's why MR is better.

Reddit sucks

I know!

To paraphrase, "To shield people from the effects of their own folly, serves merely to fill the world with fools."

Irrelevant when those fools are taking out people who aren't doing stupid shit.

Infamy is not like cabbage. You can't poke it with a stick.
Beethoven epistemological logic was not philosophical!
Insight to the life of clowns
The failure of kings
The sainthood of things
An elepaio

It's not irrelevant when the stupid people are on their phones and not watching out for a large motorized machine moving toward them. It's called thinning the herd.

There's also the increasing prevalence of high-riding SUVs and crossovers as a potential factor:

Yes SUVs increase risk of deaths 2-3 times for pedestrians. And pollute more and cause congestion.

Also, driver visibility has become a joke, even in the average sedan. Enabling this trend are the NTSB's so-called safety crash standards that have reduced window size radically over the last 2 decades.

Is the US really better off because the NTSB has made it a felony to manufacture the equivalent of a 2002 Camry or BMW 3 series?

Is this what happened to the little cars? Why Honda Civics have added a thousand pounds, for instance?

To a point. Consumers do like larger vehicles, especially with lower real fuel cost and more time spent in traffic. But the regs do matter - they increase prices of small, light vehicles by a greater overall percentage.

If you have to over-engineer a Honda Civic to have rollover integrity to accommodate idiots, drunks, and their NTSB enablers, why not just make a truck or SUV. The profits are higher.

I have many more pedestrian scares since I got a new car. The airbags make the A-pillar wider than the distance between my pupils, creating a blind spot where none existed before. At stop signs, the far right corner of the intersection is obscured. For safety.
Unintended consequences, or systematic disregard for pedestrian lives?

Yup. A-pillar width is becoming atrocious.
I have an elderly relative with a 2001 Camry (w/ only 60K! miles). Sitting in the driver's seat is a driver visibility revelation.
As far as your last question - assume unintended consequences. Sure, amoral morons are legion at government agencies - but they are strongly incentivized to not care - to always "improve" vehicles.

I agree about regulators, but suspect the automakers understand what they are offering to customers. Volvo's marketing is that the other car will get crushed, and didn't Mercedes release a statement that their position on the trolley problem is that Mercedes occupants have priority?
Are pedestrians (or their surviving family) suing the automakers over these features? I would hope so, but most drivers I talk to haven't even noticed the visibility reduction.

A lot to unpack there. Anecdotally, (I think) experienced motorcyclists consider a Volvo on the road an exponentially greater risk to their lives. Volvo buyers probably know deep down they have poor skills - and compensate because they can afford to do so.

Of course, another topic entirely is the poor skill set of a certain subset (~10%) of experienced drivers. I don't mean new drivers just starting out. I mean experienced drivers who just can't or won't improve. These people would never pass a British or German road test - but in the US, we allow almost anyone, regardless of skill, to drive.

I'm not clear if the suggestion is that pedestrians are more careless, or drivers. From my window I watch hundreds of kids walk to and from school. More have music piped into their ears, than are actively studying their phones. They don't always seem very attuned to their surroundings, though. Pretty sure the answer is not to take away their tenuous rights, however.

This based on driver's ed circa 1986. She spent a lot of time explaining who had the right of way in various scenarios, and when it was our turn to go. I recall she put up a slide showing a pedestrian in mid-street. "Who has the right of way here?"

We all returned blank looks. Dunno.

I think the music combined with looking at the smart phone that is more the problem, I had someone step out in front of me off the sidewalk just the other day as I was slowly driving past her, fortunately I was going slow enough to stop in time. She didn’t even notice me even afterwards.

The $150 guy clearly behaved like a jerk. By his own account, the situation was uncomfortable, not intolerable, and his overweight neighbor already had to deal with social stigma, plus the added health burdens that are connected to obesity. Those long-lasting realities outweigh legitimate, but temporary irritation.

The writer interprets his neighbor’s eagerness to settle the matter as evidence that he did the right thing, or at least wasn’t a jerk, but this is an incorrect assessment. His neighbor’s ready agreement to pay cash probably reflected a desire to avoid further embarrassment; embarrassment caused by the person proposing the settlement. And if he was, in fact, happy to pay, that is a distressing commentary on how social experience can grind down a person’s sense of dignity, and how more fortunate people sometimes take advantage of the grinding. Apparently, the airline was prepared to take advantage as well, by kicking the overweight person off the flight, when he had as much right to be there as anyone else. Surely demanding that obese people buy two seats whenever they travel is an unreasonable economic burden; but even if you disagree, it’s a matter that should have been dealt with at the time of sale, not the moment of departure.

On a related note, FiveThirtyEight has an interesting piece on stigma, health and obesity -

"The $150 guy clearly behaved like a jerk."

Would he have been more or less of a jerk if he'd insisted on his right to have a whole seat to sit in for five hours, making the overweight guy get off and wait for another flight? Wouldn't that have been more humiliating? And at the point of sale? The point of sale was probably an Internet travel site. Or did you mean the guy who couldn't fit in one coach seat (and surely knew it) should have bought 2 seats (or a first class seat) in the first place? Wouldn't the failure to do so make *him* the jerk in the situation?


The $150 guy paid for all of the space in his seat. Why should he be expected to forgo some of what he paid for? The overweight guy could have purchased two seats, but maybe he hoped he would get bumped into first class or would have an empty seat next to him.

I think it would have been good customer service for the airline to have rewarded the $150 guy rather than have the overweight guy pay him off.

That's some amazing egalitarian claptrap (I hope you're trolling, but I doubt it) :

1) Absolve the fat guy of responsibility for his situation.
2) Likewise, tell the $150 guy that his position is the product of good luck (being "fortunate").
3) Assert without justification that it's "unreasonable" to expect the fat guy to pay for adequate space.
4) Therefore, because the fat guy is least advantaged (he endures social stigma to boot), the $150 guy owes it to the fat guy to give up 1/3rd of his seat to improve the position of the least advantaged.

I don't see it that way. This was two grown individuals working out a mutual agreement to their own satisfaction without having to involve the authorities who had more costly ideas. Hooray for individualism. Hooray for acting like mature grownups.

As an overarching response, I’ll direct everyone’s attention to an op-Ed on obesity by Ken Rogoff and a pediatrician at Boston Children’s, as well as the FiveThirtyEight piece cited above -

People who suffer from obesity already deal with extra burdens and challenges, and there’s nothing fair about it. Yes, the $150 guy had a reasonable grievance, but, on balance, it wasn’t nearly serious enough to justify his conduct.

Typical NYT: "Obesity: Poor and minorities hardest hit!"

What's not fair is the fat guy expecting others to subsidize his poor choices. Were I a Pigouvian, I'd say that the fat guy should pay a fat tax.

Humans should be banned from driving. Yes, this will mean they will have to nearer to taller buildings.

There will be an app for this.

In the world of 5G everyone walking will be wearing a device which will tell the approaching car to stop because the car will sense the approaching pedestrian from its 5G beacon.

The ASPCA will equip squirrels and raccoons with 5G enabled sensors as well.

*People* should have more rights when they're walking, and greater liability when they're driving.

Pedestrians should probably have more legal rights, but should also exercise more caution because they're smaller and more breakable than cars. Let's use some sense here. As a pedestrian, I never cross in front of a moving vehicle because my legal rights don't really matter if the driver doesn't see me, can't stop in time, or doesn't know the law. I die and he is fine.

In non-populated areas maybe. But in cities? Cities are built for humans, not automobiles - and while it is a positive development that urban planners try to avoid fast-lane crossings as often as possible, I think it is fair to treat humans as a kind of holy cow within their own natural habitat. Rural areas shouldn't be a place where one must always look out for threats in the form of motorized traffic.
Of course, pedestrians must respect cars travelling on highway and not approach - but their safety should also be granted when they walk through regular downtown kind-of roads.

That may be, but pedestrians often step out in front of cars without even knowing they're in the street (because they're on the phone) and it is impossible to avoid them without hitting another car or running off the road. What would you do about that?

What's the speed limit where "pedestrians step out in front of cars without even knowing they're in the street because they're on the phone"?

Quite probably is a business or residential area where the speed limit is 25-30 mph. If you cannot brake from 25-30 mph to 0 without hitting another car or running off the road, you should not be driving.

While I love blaming the phone for everyting too (it's really a work of Satan himself), pedestrians with limited sensoric abilities are nothing new. We have children, elderly people, white cane users, overtime-workers or even just love-sick teenagers who may have trouble spotting a routine traffic situation.
I think the law says something like that you must drive with increased caution where such risks may occur, so while shame on pedestrians on the phone, you may still be at fault for hitting them.

General idea is place responsibility with the people who have the power

If my luggage weighs more than 50 pounds, I'm obligated to pay the airline more money to cover the cost of handling that extra weight.

If my fat ass takes up two seats, why wouldn't I be paying for that extra space?

An obese person taking half of your seat in an airplane is no different than that same obese person eating half of your pizza or drinking half of your soda. It's effectively theft and the airline should treat it as such by forcing said obese person to pay for the extra space.

Also, pot use may have an influence on this (don’t jump on me about “blaming the victim,” if the victim is doing something stupid, maybe the victim DOES deserve some blame!): “The seven states (Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington) and DC that legalized recreational use of marijuana since 2012 reported a collective 16.4% yoy rise in pedestrian fatalities, whereas all other states reported a collective 5.8% yoy decrease in pedestrian fatalities.” From the Financial Times, citing this report:

Good catch, but they left off a biggie, in fact THE biggie, California. Wonder what the pedestrian fatality stats are for CA before and after legalization.

Yes, the obese man was wrong for not having purchased two seats, and he was wrong a second time for not having offered his neighbor some sort of compensation to avoid putting the guy in the awkward situation of having to ask.

I think most people would not have asked for compensation, as it seems to violate social norms and, as we have seen from many comments, many people try to rationalize those irrational social norms by misrepresenting the compensation as some sort of blackmail or punishment for "being fat" rather than honestly recognizing that the compensation is for taking a significant portion of the non-obese guy's seat. So, the rest of us should be grateful to the non-obese guy for asking for compensation because it may help shift social norms so that we won't be put in a similar situation in the future. If social norms change, then in the future we will either receive compensation without having to ask or the obese person would have bought a second seat, thus avoiding the situation to begin with. In the meantime, the real dilemma is how we can get more people like this non-obese guy to endure the social stigmas against objecting to having one's seat encroached upon so that the rest of us won't have to. I hope more people act like the non-obese guy to produce positive externalities for the rest of us.

When I had a job that required lots of urban walking, bicyclists were a bigger threat than cars. Brooklyn drivers can be scary but Manhattan messengers and deliverymen on two-wheels were far scarier

But surely the consequences of an accident with a bike is far lower than with a car due lower weight and speed. Also bikes are much more manouverable than cars so a fast moving bike can take evasive action much more safely.

Scarier is not the same as more dangerous. Perception of risk is greater, but bicycles kill and maim at a vastly lower rate than cars, and cities with higher rates of cycling have lower rates of road deaths across all categories of road user.

Tyler, I'm curious what your opinion is on the boredpanda post you linked. Not the content of it, but the style of post that it is.

Websites like that really frustrate me. In my opinion, that post is not adding anything of substance to the original post on Reddit other than ads and we should not support that kind of low-effort re-posting of content with our traffic and ad impressions.

Drivers enjoy private benefits and impose social costs. Individual pedestrians won't be able to bargain for their rights, but they might be stripped by a tyrannical majority of drivers. Drivers will gain and pedestrians will lose. Not an attractive model of society or of the city.

From a European perspective it amazes me just how dangerous US cities are - subjectively and objectively. Drivers behave worse, streets feel dangerous, and many more people die. Yet it's barely a political issue, unlike gun control. Just bringing the worst cities to the standard of the best would save many lives - and improve the quality of life in cities - at a cost that looks low from my perspective. Small steps towards a better world?

The rule for crossing a busy street used to be, "Never give the driver eye contact." Because drivers would choose to stop rather than risk hitting a pedestrian, and they couldn't know you'd seen the vehicle if you'd avoided eye contact.

But distracted drivers don't look for eye contact or much of anything else and there are more of them than ever, so pedestrians will just have to work out a new strategy.

The airplane seat isn't Coasian, it's socialist: to each according to his needs. The obese passenger takes more space because that passenger needs more space, and the non-obese passenger "contributes" space because such "contributions" are not voluntary.

Of course, the cheap-seat air travel bargain remains, "It's uncomfortable, but planes are fast and most would prefer a few hours of discomfort to paying significantly more." It works, most of the time, on domestic flights at least.

And airlines may get even better at selling every extra cubic centimeter of space for a premium, but, if they can't or won't guarantee that you'll get any extra space you paid extra for may have difficulty selling the upgrade.

To me the real question is why the USA is lagging most developed countries on so many aspect where early deaths could be prevented: health care, gun control, road safety as a whole, etc. etc. I don't think that the argument that this is an optimal market equilibrium would hold for most people.

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