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Deaths spur street safety plan

Programs will emphasize the need for drivers and pedestrians to be aware of each other on the road

By Paige L. Jinbo

LAST UPDATED: 5:39 a.m. HST, Jul 27, 2011

A recent spike in pedestrian deaths has prompted the state to begin a monthlong campaign to try to make walkers and drivers more conscious of street safety.

Pedestrian deaths in Hawaii were up nearly 70 percent last year, to 27 from 16 in 2009. This year there have been 11 fatalities, including eight on Oahu.

"This alarming number shows us that we have lot more work to do," Jade Butay, deputy director of the state Department of Transportation, said Tuesday at a news conference. "Pedestrian traffic fatalities are mostly due to simple carelessness and inattentive behavior."

In an attempt to change this behavior, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz proclaimed Tuesday that August will be Pedestrian Safety Awareness Month. Each day in August, Walk Wise Hawaii, a state program dedicated to pedestrian safety and driver awareness, will conduct an event reminding people to be responsible pedestrians and motorists.


Tips for pedestrians
» Wear bright-colored clothing; wear reflective materials at night.
» Cross at a corner or at a crosswalk.
» Make eye contact with drivers. Look both ways while crossing.
» Watch for cars backing out of driveways.

Tips for drivers
» Be alert for the sudden appearance of pedestrians, such as from behind a stopped car.
» Stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk when the pedestrian is in or closely approaching the half of the roadway the vehicle is in.

Source: Walk Wise Hawaii

"Each of us can make a difference and change our habits to keep our community safe," Schatz said. "Nothing is more important than preventing needless deaths."

Hawaii ranked 22nd nationally in pedestrian fatalities in 2009, with 1.24 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the latest national statistics available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Hawaii's pedestrian death rate rose last year to 1.98 per 100,000 people. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2007 that Hawaii was No. 1 in pedestrian fatalities in people 65 and over.

"When we talk about statistics in government, we run numbers a lot, and … nothing is more meaningful than these particular numbers because these are lives, these are people," Schatz said.

Lance Rae, spokesman and coordinator for Walk Wise Hawaii, said the events next month will range from small community sign-wavings on Kauai to going to senior tai chi classes around Honolulu and reminding participants how to be safe when crossing streets.

"The elderly population is the most vulnerable to being struck by cars going 25 miles per hour or less, and so we need to help them change their behavior," Rae said.

Of the 27 fatalities last year, 10 were seniors. Rae said part of the education process for seniors is emphasizing that traffic is heavier now and ensuring that they are always observant of their surroundings.

He said Walk Wise Hawaii has been successful in reducing the number of senior pedestrian fatalities. For the last three years, senior fatalities averaged about 39 percent of all pedestrian deaths in Hawaii, a "major decrease from the middle of the last decade" when seniors represented more than 60 percent of such fatalities each year, Rae said.

The Walk Wise Hawaii campaign includes a 30-second public service spot titled "You'll Never Know Who You'll Run Into," showing the consequences of inattentive behavior. It will be screened starting July 29 for eight weeks at Consolidated Theatres Victoria Ward 16 and Pearlridge West 16.

In addition, all city buses on Oahu will have posters reminding riders that "Drivers can always see TheBus, but they don't always see YOU!"

Walk Wise Hawaii is sponsored by the state Department of Transportation and funded primarily by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Honolulu Police Department also is working to keep pedestrians and drivers safe.

Police officers went to California and Makani avenues in Wahiawa to conduct a Saving Pedestrian and Motorists enforcement operation Tuesday morning. For two hours plainclothes officers crossed the street and cited motorists who did not yield the right of way to pedestrians as required by law. Officers also cited jaywalking pedestrians.

Between June 2010 and July, Honolulu police issued 448 citations in such enforcement operations, which are conducted at least once a month, said Capt. Keith Lima of the police Traffic Division.

Lima said pedestrians need to look both ways before crossing the street — not just once, but multiple times — and motorists need to pay more attention to their driving.

"What it comes down to is that everyone is responsible for their own safety," Lima said. "It's not utopia — people are going to get into accidents, and unfortunately some may die — but we all just need to be more cognizant."

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