Pedestrian culture varies quite a bit between cities across the world, especially when it comes to crosswalks, according to a new study in Royal Society Open Science (highlighted recently by Science magazine).
Japanese and French researchers teamed up to observe stoplights at four different intersections in Nagoya, Japan and three different sites in Strasbourg, France, hypothesizing that France's individualistic society might encourage people to take more risks than Japan's collectivist one.
They found that out of 1631 Japanese road crossings observed, only 2 percent of pedestrians crossed against the red light. By contrast, French pedestrians crossed against the light almost 42 percent of the 3814 crossings observed. Furthermore, even law-abiding French pedestrians stepped off the curb sooner than Japanese pedestrians when the light finally turned green.
In both countries, the number of jaywalkers increased when no one was around to notice. When no other people were nearby, French pedestrians crossed illegally 67 percent of the time. Japanese pedestrians jaywalked almost 7 percent of the time when no one was around to see it happen. The researchers hypothesize that people are more afraid of judgment from their peers than of getting a ticket from the police. The researchers write that “they are more afraid of being criticized than they are of being fined.”
But city culture isn’t the only thing that influences whether or not people decide to scamper across the street outside the safe confines of a walk signal. People are more likely to jaywalk when the streets have fewer lanes or when there's a median, as well as when the wait time between lights is long, among other things.
This study only examined crosswalk culture in two countries, so it can’t really be extrapolated to the whole world, but perhaps other researchers are at work on international jaywalking behavior. It would be interesting to compare the difference between crosswalk behavior in a place like the U.S., where jaywalking is largely against the law, compared to the UK, where jaywalking fines do not exist.