Column: Much more can, and must, be done for pedestrian safety
Killing elderly pedestrians is not a category in which the Aloha State ought to be ranking No. 1 in the nation.
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Killing elderly pedestrians is not a category in which the Aloha State ought to be ranking No. 1 in the nation. We’re also way up there in overall pedestrian deaths, and the numbers have risen dramatically just this last year. For the first time, our traffic accidents are killing more people on the street than in cars. So it’s good that Honolulu, where most of these accidents occur, is urgently developing a pedestrian plan. Ever since August 2015 when a driver ran a red light on Kalanianaole Highway and seriously injured me in a crosswalk, I’ve been thinking, too, about what might be done.
There are 30 questions on the Department of Motor Vehicles’ written test for a driver’s license, 25 of which you must answer correctly to pass. What if questions about pedestrian right of way, red lights, and driving distracted or under the influence were classified as no-fail questions that could not be among the five you are allowed to miss?
Yes, install pedestrian-activated flashing lights and, at intersections where there have been frequent accidents, automatic flashing lights or speed bumps ahead of the signal to keep drivers alert. How about painting whole crosswalks a brilliant yellow, instead of the standard white stripes that can easily go unnoticed on a busy street? On King Street between Punahou and University, for example, there are dozens of crosswalks, some marked only with fading stripes on the pavement, not even a sign.
It’s also time we change the way we think and talk about pedestrians. They aren’t just annoying impediments to drivers who have important things to do and places to go. These are people, neighbors, who are also trying to get somewhere, and they do us all a favor by going on foot. Unlike vehicle drivers, pedestrians do not pollute the air, burn fossil fuels, exceed the speed limit, take up parking space, create traffic jams, or contribute to the wear and tear on public roads. Value them.
Conversations about pedestrian accidents too quickly turn to tales of the dumb things pedestrians do, reinforcing the idea that most pedestrian accidents are the pedestrian’s fault. Drivers then shrug their shoulders and don’t stop to ask themselves if they need to be more careful.
Even the media and lawmakers tend to focus on pedestrian behavior as the key to bringing accident rates down (see Councilman Ron Menor’s idea in the recent article, “Strict pedestrian crossing bill proposed,” Star-Advertiser, April 27). Between cars and pedestrians, which can move out of the way faster? Which is capable of doing the most damage?
Some pedestrians do do dumb things, such as jaywalking or crossing the freeway at night or entering a crosswalk against the light. But Hawaii law requires drivers to make every effort to avoid striking a pedestrian even if he or she is in the wrong. That requires being aware and alert. Recent statistics show that nearly two-thirds of the drivers involved in pedestrian accidents were speeding, distracted, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. So there’s work to do all around.
Counting fatalities is not enough. Do we really think that as long as somebody isn’t killed they’ll be OK? The public needs to hear the human interest stories of pain and disability— how one careless moment changes the lives of real people and their families physically, emotionally and financially, sometimes forever. Even the driver, though less likely to be seriously injured, will probably never be the same again.
Once we understand the full cost of pedestrian accidents, we will know that what we invest in preventing them is well worth the cost.