As a mother of three young boys, I’m well aware of my responsibility for making sure they are safe. When we cross the street, we hold hands and I tell them to look both ways to look for cars. I hope to instill in them, as they grow older, that crossing streets safely is their responsibility. And when they begin to drive, they will learn that driving safely is their responsibility, too.
As we are probably all aware, pedestrian crashes are increasing in Minnesota. Lives are being lost. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, a pedestrian is hit about every other day. These are children, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and friends.
We’re all pedestrians at some point in our day. Let me repeat that: We are all pedestrians at some point in our day. The pedestrian causing you to slow down or stop was you five minutes ago as you walked from your car into work or into the store. Somehow, in our hurried lives, we aren’t patient anymore. We are distracted. We want to roll through the stop sign, to cross the street even though the signal hasn’t cleared us to go. We want to drive 5 or 10 miles per hour faster than the posted speed limit. Updating our Facebook status can’t seem to wait. We forget our responsibility to be safe. And people are paying with their lives.
When a pedestrian and a vehicle collide, statistics show that half of the time it’s the pedestrian’s fault and the other half, it’s the driver’s fault. We are all responsible for pedestrian safety — whether we are pedestrians or drivers.
The Minnesota Department of Transporation tells people time and again, in our messaging, to scan the road and watch for pedestrians, to not drive — or walk — distracted, to obey signals, to make eye contact with drivers, to slow down. In spite of all we do and will continue to do — despite better engineering, better education, more enforcement and better emergency medical services — children, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and friends are still getting hit, suffering life-changing injuries or dying.
The mother and adult daughter who crossed the street together will never do so again because the daughter was killed. The teen hit by a turning bus will deal with his injuries every day for the rest of his life. The young woman who was tossed 30 feet down the road after being hit has recovered from four broken pelvic bones and a concussion, but now has short-term memory issues.
When I think of the thousands of people affected by these tragedies every year, I am reminded of the importance of paying attention and following the laws.
It’s time to turn this around, to start driving and walking smart. We need to look out for one another. When we drive, we should expect a pedestrian to be at every corner. It’s time to not use our cellphones, in the car or as we cross the street.
It’s time to drive like that person you see in the crosswalk is your mother or father or child.
It’s time that safe behaviors are ingrained in the culture of our everyday lives.
We can start turning this around this very day on our rides or walks home.
Melissa Barnes is statewide pedestrian and bicycle safety engineer at the Minnesota Department of Transportation.