Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorial: Pedestrian safety is up to all of us

If motorists needed a reminder to slow down and watch for pedestrians, the three deaths between Monday night and Tuesday morning in the Sacramento area should be a wake-up call.

This is a particularly dangerous time of the year, as the days grow shorter. Many of us are still getting used to driving to and from work in darkness. Some researchers say the risk for pedestrians will even worsen in the weeks after daylight saving time ends Nov. 3 and sunset comes earlier.

It doesn’t help that some streets are still dark as local governments try to recover from the epidemic of copper thefts during the recession. Just in the city of Sacramento, nearly 21,000 streetlights were damaged since 2010. Incidents have dropped to one a week from a half-dozen, and after spending $1.7 million, the backlog for repairs has been reduced to four weeks from three months, the city says.

Some safety measures are being put in place, such as more crosswalks with flashing warning signs. To reduce speeding, the city recently reconfigured J Street and Folsom Boulevard in east Sacramento so there is only one traffic lane in each direction, plus a center-turn lane and dedicated bicycle lanes.

But it’s up to all of us to stay safe. While these guidelines ought to be common sense and common courtesy, they’re worth reinforcing.

Pedestrians should stay on sidewalks; where there are none, they should walk facing traffic as far from vehicles as possible. Use crosswalks and intersections whenever possible. Never assume a driver sees you; try to make eye contact.

Drivers should look for pedestrians everywhere, but be especially cautious at night and in school zones and residential areas with children. Slow down when turning or nearing a crosswalk. Always stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, leave plenty of room so drivers behind you can see, and never pass vehicles stopped at a crosswalk.

And no one should drink and drive – or walk. Alcohol is involved in nearly half the crashes that kill pedestrians.

Overall, pedestrian deaths are on the rise in California and the nation. After four years of decline, the national total rose in 2010 and again in 2011, to 4,432. California has by far the most pedestrian fatalities of any state – 656 in 2011, according to preliminary figures.

These are life-altering tragedies for all involved. Is getting somewhere a few minutes earlier really worth the risk?