The American Automobile Association reported last week the number of Americans killed when drivers run a red light has reached a 10-year high, averaging just more than two pedestrians killed each day nationwide.
The folks at AAA seemed a little baffled by the dramatic upsurge, given that overall, highway fatalities have dropped more than 10 percent over the past decade.
AAA’s officials made some suppositions, including poorly-timed stop lights and distracted drivers. The latter option seems the obvious choice from our perspective.
The fact is that cars and most trucks have benefited from safety improvements since 2012, thus affording more protection for drivers and passengers inside those vehicles. On the other hand, no such technological advances have been given to folks trying to cross the street.
Think of it this way — who do you suppose has the advantage when a 2-ton-plus car or truck slams into, say, a 150 pound man or woman in a crosswalk? Again, the answer seems fairly obvious.
Santa Maria officials know all about the car-vs.-pedestrian, or car-vs.-bicyclist situation. In just the past three years, there have been 228 vehicle-involved collisions that injured pedestrians and cyclists within city limits. There were 71 in 2016, 82 in 2017 and 75 in 2018. Six of those ill-fated meetings resulted in a walker/rider being killed.
Those numbers have compelled city officials to launch a campaign to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists, employing a strategy of enhanced police enforcement in specific areas, an improved bikeway network, and a grand scheme to fundamentally reshape city streets in the downtown area, making them safer for pedestrians.
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The proliferation of cell phones hasn’t helped pedestrians or cyclists either. Although the law generally frowns upon or forbids their various uses by drivers, we continue to see people glued to their phones while driving, or looking down, most likely with thumbs flying across a tiny keyboard.
Sadly, that’s just human nature. We seem hardwired to answer a ringing phone, or respond to what could be a very important text message. We can say with some authority that no message you receive while driving is worth what can, and does happen when a driver’s attention is pulled away by any distraction inside the vehicle.
Having said that, common sense dictates that drivers aren’t the only part of this equation. Pedestrians and cyclists must live by the rules of the road as well — if they want to remain among the living.
For example, the folks at AAA offer the following tips to pedestrians and cyclists: Take a few seconds to make sure traffic has stopped before crossing or riding into a street. Make yourself more visible by establishing eye contact with drivers. If you are walking or riding while listening to music or the radio on earphones, you are at greater risk, so consider leaving the audio entertainment at home.
But ultimately, the motorist has control. AAA recommends drivers should be prepared to stop as they are entering an intersection. Tapping the brake pedal while approaching a light serves to warn drivers behind you of an emergency stop. Consider waiting a second or so after a light changes to green before going. You want to make sure crossing traffic has stopped.
These aren’t difficult assignments. They’re painfully simple and don’t really take up much of your valuable time. Besides, what is being a few seconds late to your destination compared to a lifetime of sorrow for having been responsible for taking a fellow human’s life? Something to think about.