PEDS Blog: January, 2009

Blame the Road, Not the Victim!

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Cobb County Police charged Altamesa Walker, the victim of a tragic pedestrian-vehicle crash, with involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct. Why? Because on November 17, 2008 while crossing South Cobb Drive to get to a bus stop, she and her children were hit by a car and her 4-year-old daughter was killed. The charges suggest that Ms. Walker was careless, inattentive, perhaps foolish to have tried to cross the 5-lane roadway.

Read the AJC article.

News reports all emphasize that the pedestrians “were not in a crosswalk.”  None mention, however, that the nearest crosswalk is 1055 ft away–which is over two standard city blocks.  Using the nearest crosswalk to get to the bus stop would require nearly a half mile detour.  It’s unreasonable to expect any pedestrian to walk that far just to get across the street.

The AJC reporter claims the family was “trying to dart” across the street. “Dart” suggests a rapid, dashing, possibly haphazard movement. No evidence supports this.  The mother says she crossed to the center turn lane and waited there for a car to pass. She saw a gap in traffic and attempted to finish crossing.

What about the driver? The crash occurred at 6:15am just before sunrise. The mother claims the driver’s lights weren’t on. Was the driver on a cell phone or otherwise distracted? Was the driver speeding? Pedestrians hit at 40mph have an 85% chance of being killed. Pedestrians hit at 30mph have about a 50-50 chance of survival. Hit at just 20mph, 95% of pedestrians survive. So clearly, speed helped determine the chance of fatality in this case.

PEDS has urged Cobb County (see our letter (PDF)) and other jurisdictions to install pedestrian refuge islands in the middle of multi-lane roads like South Cobb Drive wherever transit stops are located. These aren’t midblock “crosswalks.”  They’re concrete islands that enable pedestrians to cross busy streets in two stages, with a safe place to wait in the middle. It’s shameful that transportation agencies have failed to provide safe crossings for pedestrians, even at the most obvious spots: bus stops.

Protect Pedestrians from Unfair Penalties

Friday, January 30th, 2009

House Bill 13, which was introduced by Representative Kevin Levitas (District 82) seeks to amend Georgia Code 40-6-96 so as to to “clarify the legal activities of pedestrians.” The bill expands the list of things you can’t do in the street when a sidewalk is available to include running, jogging, striding and standing.  Runners appear to be the target.

As written currently, the Georgia Code and HB 13 allow no exceptions. If the legislature is going to amend the law by refining the definition of pedestrian, it should also protect pedestrians from being punished for conditions beyond their control.

A similar provision in Georgia Code 40-6-294 that requires cyclists to ride as near to the right side of the road as practical provides exceptions when “avoiding hazards to safe cycling.” In a state where broken, uneven, or overgrown sidewalks create obstacles or tripping hazards that make them impassable to people who jog, run, push strollers, or use walkers or other mobility devices, pedestrians deserve the same exceptions.

PEDS is urging Rep. Levitas and other representatives to amend HB 13 by providing exceptions for obstacles, hazardous conditions and special events.  Our amendment request includes numerous photos illustrating hazards that would compel people to walk or run in the street.

Super Speeders Endanger Pedestrians Too

Friday, January 30th, 2009

(Click to enlarge.)

PEDS commends Gov. Sonny Perdue and Rep. Jim Cole for promoting legislation that will increase fines for speeding drivers. The current “super speeder” proposal targets motorists exceeding 85 mph on any highway or 75 mph on two-lane highways. This is a great start, but it overlooks the tremendous threat to pedestrians created by motorists who speed in school zones or on neighborhood streets.

Drivers who exceed the speed limit by 20 mph on neighborhood streets create far greater risks than those who travel 85 mph on an interstate highway. If a pedestrian is hit at 45 mph, the likelihood of death exceeds 90 percent. The average cost of a pedestrian injury accident is $468,000, some seven times higher than the cost of an injury to a vehicle occupant. Given the vulnerability of pedestrians and the high cost of treating traumatic injury, the proposed bill should also increase fines for motorists who exceed the speed limit by more than 20 mph in school zones, near parks, and in residential districts.

Ask Drivers to Hang Up the Phone

Monday, January 26th, 2009

On January 12, 2009, the National Safety Council, the nonprofit advocacy group that pushed for seat belt laws and anti-drunk driving  campaigns, called for a complete ban on using cellphones while driving.

More than 50 peer-reviewed scientific studies confirm the risk of talking on cell phones while driving.  Research shows that hands-free phones are just as dangerous than hand-held ones. The problem isn’t your hands. It’s your brain.

“Studies show that driving while talking on a cell phone is extremely dangerous and puts drivers at a four times greater risk of a crash,” said Janet Froetscher, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “Driving drunk is also dangerous and against the law. When our friends have been drinking, we take the car keys away. It’s time to take the cell phone away.”

PEDS encourages you to ask your friends, family, and colleagues to hang up while driving. If you sense someone who called you is driving, ask them to call back later.