Responsible Walking and Bicycling

It seems like I hear about pedestrian and bicyclist deaths due to cars or trucks almost every time I read the news, and it seems the driver of the vehicle often leaves the scene. Just last week alone, the Sun-Sentinel published articles on a pedestrian and a bicyclist who died as a result of hit-and-run accidents. On Wednesday, March 4th, a 57-year-old man was crossing a road in Dania Beach when he was struck by a pickup truck. The victim was pronounced dead upon arrival at Memorial Regional Hospital.

After the collision, the truck then fled the scene without supplying any aid to the victim. The roommate of the victim described the vehicle to the Broward County Sherriff’s deputies who responded to the scene and pieces of the perpetrator’s vehicle were found at the scene. The combination of this information led to an investigation that ultimately resulted in them speaking with a person of interest.

The bicyclist who was hit was a 46-year-old male who was riding his bike at approximately 2:45 a.m. on Sunday morning. The person responsible was eventually found and arrested, charged with tampering with evidence and failure to remain at an accident involving a death.

Regarding the pedestrian death, a spokeswoman for the Broward County Sheriff’s Office stated, “We have seen many hit and runs recently and many of them fatal. Often times it’s the pedestrian’s fault and panicked drivers tend to flee and end up facing charges they wouldn’t have faced if they had stayed on scene.”

Although the first victim was not in a crosswalk at the time that he was struck, and both incidents occurred after dark, these are hardly actions that should be punishable by death. Additionally, it is horrifying enough to strike someone with a vehicle, but to do so and drive off is absolutely heinous. You cannot possibly strike someone with your vehicle and not be aware of it. Not only is it a heinous act, but it is also a felony and an act of stupidity. Both of the vehicles involved in these incidents left behind broken bits of the vehicles involved. Additionally, with the density of the population in South Florida, it is virtually impossible to commit such a violation without witnesses. I am sure it is just a matter of time before the first driver is also identified.

Why these types of incidents continue to occur in what seems to be with ever-increasing frequency is of some debate. According to a study conducted by the State of Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), Florida’s pedestrian fatality rates have consistently placed among the highest in the nation. It is possible that one reason for this startling statistic is that it is a matter of continual urbanization, yet relatively little investment in addressing safety concerns. Add to that the number of major highways that are in use in South Florida which pedestrians and bicyclists have to share with motor vehicles and it becomes clear that all of these issues could be determinant factors.

There is, however, a dissenting opinion that raises concerns which addresses the issue of how the fatality statistics are gauged. For example, because there are so many visitors to this state and the climate encourages people to be outdoors, there is greater exposure of bicyclists and pedestrians to traffic.

Another hypothesis is that the length of nights tend to be longer in the south. Walking in the dark is inherently more dangerous and occurs more frequently in Florida due to its relatively warm winters as compared to other areas of the country. The variables of climate and length of day are considered to be the two key components for nearly 60 percent of the variation between Florida’s metropolitan fatalities as compared to other areas. Let’s also remember that the sheer volume of traffic in Florida motivates drivers to seek alternate routes, often leading them to roadways where there is unrestricted pedestrian traffic.

Some of the findings of this traffic study which was conducted from 1998-2000 were quite surprising. There were 353 accidents that involved pedestrians and 61 that involved bicyclists during that timeframe. Of the 353 pedestrian events, 350 resulted in the death of the pedestrians. Sadly, most of these deaths (80 percent) were the result of pedestrian errors. Fifty-three percent were caused by pedestrians trying to cross the road at areas that did not contain crosswalks. Generally when this occurred, 69 percent of those people were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The likely correlation is that drivers learn to look for people in crosswalks, but seldom do drivers anticipate people walking out from between cars and so forth.

As for driver responsibility, the study showed that 71 percent of the time, poor lighting was a major issue. This confirms the earlier statement that the lack of financial investment into greater safety measures by the State of Florida is a huge part of the problem. Better and greater use of streetlights, crosswalks with pedestrian signals, etcetera could markedly reduce these types of tragedies. These methods, however, only work when pedestrians and bicyclists heed them.

It has been my perception that with the growing use of bicycles as a means of transportation, bicyclists tend to forget that they are not afforded the same safety as if they were in a car, yet they often ride as though they are in a car. Florida General Statute 316.2065 states that

(1) Every person propelling a vehicle by human power has all of the rights and all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle…

Although the same laws apply to both vehicles and bicycles, I have seen many bicyclists use their added maneuverability to engage in illegal and dangerous behaviors. Also, although recumbent bikes are very popular, many times it is extremely difficult to see them in traffic and their width makes them harder to avoid than a standard bicycle.