EDITORIALS

If you want to decrease pedestrian fatalities, get more people out walking

Posted March 18, 2017, at 9:43 a.m.

It is easy to mock a bill, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Stanley of Medway, that would require pedestrians walking at night to wear reflective vests. The proposal may seem nanny statish, but it aims to solve a real problem.

Although the number of traffic fatalities has declined in Maine over the decade between 2006 and 2015, the number of pedestrian fatalities has not. In 2015, the most recent year for which data are available, 19 pedestrians were killed in Maine, the highest number in at least a decade and nearly double 2006’s 10 fatalities. Pedestrian fatalities accounted for 12 percent of Maine’s traffic-related deaths in 2015.

Most of the fatalities were in rural areas, though pedestrians also were killed crossing downtown streets in Bangor and Lewiston.

Stanley’s bill, LD 1011, would require pedestrians walking along roads where there is no sidewalk to wear a reflective vest between sunset and sunrise. This makes sense, and many walkers already do so.

Stanley, a Democrat, said he introduced the bill on behalf of a constituent who was worried about hitting people walking on the roadway in his hometown of East Millinocket. Stanley told the BDN he wasn’t sure if this is the right solution — he wonders how it would be enforced, for example — but he hopes it spurs needed discussion.

The Maine Department of Transportation has convened a working group to develop messaging to draw attention to the problem and strategies to reduce crashes with bicyclists and pedestrians. The group is challenged by the fact that there are no easy answers, according to Patrick Adams, DOT’s bicycle and pedestrian program coordinator. For example, whom should an ad campaign target — drivers, walkers, bicyclists or all of them? For each group the message is different. In addition, infrastructure changes to increase bicyclist and pedestrian safety, such as walking and biking lanes with barriers to separate them from automobile traffic, are effective but unlikely in sparsely populated rural Maine.

What is clear is that that pedestrian safety isn’t just about pedestrian behavior. Drivers need to slow down and pay attention.

In November, Jayden Cho-Sargent, 13, was hit by a truck while he was walking to Lewiston Middle School. He was in a crosswalk. The driver of the pickup truck that hit him said she did not see Cho-Sargent. She has been charged with a civil violation in his death.

Such charges are rare in crashes involving pedestrians, as well as bicyclists, another group with rising fatality rates.

In addition to pedestrians ensuring they are seen and drivers paying more attention to what is happening around their vehicles, simple awareness is a big part of the equation. Here’s an interesting solution: Get more people to walk and ride bikes. Peter Jacobsen, a public health consultant from California, wrote in Injury Prevention that if more people walk and ride their bikes, drivers will be more alert to these activities when they are behind the wheel.

“A motorist is less likely to collide with a person walking and bicycling if more people walk or bicycle,” Jacobsen wrote after examining data from European countries and California cities.

“This result is unexpected,” he wrote. “It appears that motorists adjust their behavior in the presence of people walking and bicycling.”

In other words, if motorists expect more walkers and bicyclists on the road they will keep an eye out for them and be less likely to be caught unaware and hit them.

Best of all, this wouldn’t require legislation.

 

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