Heed safety tips to prevent pedestrian deaths

Lesley Toth

The Minnesota Department of Pubic Safety recently released a report indicating 23 pedestrians have died in Minnesota this year — and with Friday night’s tragic death of a 14-year-old Onamia girl who was struck on her way to watch a football game with friends, the number increased to 24.

It has been the deadliest time for pedestrians in the last five years. According to the Associated Press, last year at this time, 14 people had died after being struck while walking on Minnesota streets or roads.

The reasons for the increase are hard to nail down. It’s been an unseasonably warm year, which may have urged more people to walk to their destinations rather than drive. Cars and SUVs are becoming ever larger, reducing the visibility drivers have of areas nearby the hood.

With recent reports citing declines in nearly all other types of traffic fatalities, a better understanding as to why our roads are becoming more and more dangerous for pedestrians is warranted.

This month, Minnesota will launch its first pedestrian safety campaign in nearly 15 years. Why the state has taken a decade and a half hiatus from this valuable public service campaign is a mystery. Studies have shown the positive affects PSAs have on reducing drunk driving incidents, increasing seat belt usage and avoiding distracted driving. Perhaps, after several years of steady declines, the state figured we heard the message about pedestrian safety loud and clear. Unfortunately, the increase in these fatalities in the past five years may indicate we require a thorough reminder.

Having taken the shoelace express to most of my destinations while attending college in the traffic-heavy St. Cloud area for more than five years, I have had my share of close calls with the inattentive driver. And even here in our small, Minnesota-nice town, I have experienced difficulty crossing at the city’s fewer than 12 marked crosswalks. On several occasions, I have watched as one of our local senior citizens waited patiently at one of these crosswalks as three to five vehicles speed by without so much as tapping the brakes.

I have also witnessed pedestrians attempt to beat oncoming vehicles in a mad dash to traverse through intersections. The five seconds they may save is a risk not worth taking.

With more and more people being encouraged to lead a more active lifestyles by walking, the need to be aware of these bipedal travelers is more important now than ever. And with school now in session, the safety of our young people is imperative.

The Department of Transportation’s campaign reminds drivers to stop at crosswalks and look before turning a corner. It also urges walkers and runners to make eye contact with drivers before crossing. Here are some more tips for pedestrians:

•Cross the street at a designated crosswalk.

•Be careful at intersections, where drivers may fail to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians while turning onto another street.

•Increase your visibility at night by carrying a flashlight and wearing reflective clothing.

•It’s safest to walk on a sidewalk, but if you must walk in the street, walk facing traffic.

For drivers:

•When entering a crosswalk area, drive slowly and be prepared to stop.

•Stop for pedestrians who are in a crosswalk, even if it is not marked. When you stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, stop well back so that drivers in the other lanes can also see the pedestrian in time to stop.

•Do not overtake and pass other vehicles stopped for pedestrians.

•When you are turning, you often will have to wait for a “gap” in traffic. Beware that while you are watching for that “gap,” pedestrians may have moved into your intended path.

•Be especially attentive around schools and in neighborhoods where children are active.