The New Scientist magazine recently reported a study conducted by Tova Rosenbloom of Bar-Ilan University that suggests devout Orthodox Jews are three times as likely to be risk-taking pedestrians than their neighbours in secular communities.
According to the magazine, Rosenbloom began to suspect that religious beliefs might play a role after hearing complaints about pedestrian behaviour in the ultraorthodox community of Bnei-Brak. To find out more, she and her colleagues watched more than 1000 pedestrians at two busy intersections, one in Bnei-Brak and the other in a largely secular city. They totted up the number of times a pedestrian either jaywalked, walked on the road as opposed to the footpath, crossed without looking for traffic or crossed without holding an accompanying child’s hand.
They found the inhabitants of Bnei-Brak were three times more likely than the others to break these rules.
Rossenbloom thinks an ultraorthodox faith might contribute to this cavalier behaviour by making people respect religious more than state-law. However, she did not rule out the possibility, that religious people might simply have less fear of death.
I have seen this phenomenon first-hand, as has anyone who has ever visited Boro Park, I suspect. And the pedestrians with an apparent disdain for the traffic laws have nothing on the drivers there. Driving in Boro park is like driving in another country - one that has close to zero enforcement of traffic rules and regulations. I have seen a driver behind the wheel of a minivan packed with kids cross 2 lanes to snag a parking spot without even checking for oncoming traffic. Double parking (for hours!) is perfectly accepted. And crossing a street there is a high-risk activity. Pedestrians and drivers in many Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods play what looks to me like one big game of "Chicken". And in my opinion, it has nothing to do with a lack of fear of death in the Ultra-Orthodox community, and everything to do with a lack of respect for local traffic law.
What really scares me is that, anecdotally at least, I see this phenomenon becoming more and more prevalent in my neighborhood. As more and more people are transplanted here from Brooklyn and other points more Ultra-Orthodox, I have certainly seen a gradual increase in double parking, jaywalking (with young children in tow), illegal U-turns, and the like. And I don't like it. Laws, especially traffic laws, are in place to protect us and ensure our safety. Can anyone really make the case that pushing a stroller across a busy street against the light, chatting on a handheld cellphone while trying to make a tricky turn behind the wheel, or parking and blocking access to a fire hydrant is in the interests of the safety of yourself and your fellow citizens? I can't imagine.
Come on, people!