By Beulah Amsterdam
On a sunny winter day, a disabled woman using a walker waited at the corner across from Sycamore Park in Davis. Cars whizzed by. The woman stepped off the curb into the crosswalk and waited. Finally a driver stopped. When the woman was halfway through the intersection, a car from the opposite direction sped through in front of her.
I had good reason to be scared for the disabled woman because I was hit by a black SUV a few blocks north in a crosswalk in 2011. My accident occurred on a May morning at the intersection of Drake Drive and Sycamore Lane. I saw the black SUV waiting to make a turn, but could not see the driver through the dark-tinted window.
Assuming the driver saw me, I started across and moments later was hit. I flew up into the air and landed on my left foot, fracturing my ankle. It took more than six months for my life to return to a semblance of normal.
The driver was 20 years old. Was he talking or texting on a cell phone? The police officer at the scene did not check his cell phone.
There’s a new driving culture on our streets. Almost 50 percent of drivers between the ages of 18 and 24 text while driving. Cell phone users now cause more accidents than drunken drivers. As a culture, we accept our addiction to our cell phones, as we once accepted smoking and drunken driving. None of us wants to come home to the news that someone we love has been killed by a distracted driver.
More older pedestrians are killed at intersections than those under the age of 70. They walk more slowly, and diminished vision, hearing and reaction time contribute to their vulnerability. As a 75-year-old woman, I wonder if I will I be able to cross Davis streets safely as I continue to age?
While I was recuperating, a young friend, who was helping me, was knocked off her bike in a crosswalk, and badly bruised. That driver did not stop. Many accidents like this one are not reported to the police.
A Davis dog owner had just stepped off the curb into the crosswalk with her dog ahead of her when a car came around the corner. She leapt out of the way, but her dog was killed. That driver did not stop.
Within a year of my accident, three pedestrians were killed.
I’ve noticed that few drivers stop for pedestrians at crosswalks, or even at stop signs. One day, between 11:30 a.m. and noon, 120 cars passed through the intersection of Sycamore Lane and Villanova Drive, which is controlled by a stop sign. That’s an average of four cars per minute. Cars traveling south did not stop 23 percent of the time, while those traveling north did not stop 82 percent of the time.
(Cars driving south on Sycamore presumably saw the school sign, and heeded the stop sign. Cars driving north had passed the school and disregarded the stop sign.)
Most cars slowed down, many didn’t. Some cars were speeding. The city of Davis traffic unit reports the average speed on Sycamore is 32.5 mph. Being hit by a car traveling at 40 mph brings an 85 percent chance of death. Nationwide, one pedestrian is killed every 107 minutes. Pedestrians hit by cars experience brain damage, spinal cord injury, paraplegia, quadriplegia, coma and fractured bones.
The majority of drivers involved in fatal pedestrian crashes are males between the ages of 21 and 25, not drinking or speeding. They are most likely texting. In our college town, it is vital that we confront texting while driving. We need an effective law giving police the right to check drivers’ cell phone use if they are driving erratically or if they are involved in an accident or a traffic violation.
California law states that “The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.” This law is not observed or enforced in Davis. Cars roll through stop signs, after speeding at 30 to 40 mph in a 25 mph zone. Traffic laws must be rigorously enforced to send the message that pedestrians have rights, so that drivers follow the rule of law rather than the rule of the jungle.
Democracy is about protecting the rights of all. Children, the disabled, the elderly and leashed dogs must be protected by police enforcing speeding, stop sign and crosswalk laws. Police must have the right to check cell phones after any traffic violation. Meanwhile, we all need to commit to observing traffic laws and to being fully alert and aware when we are out walking, biking or driving.
On Sept. 25, 2012, we had Pedestrian Safety Day. The Police Department dedicated additional patrols to enforce pedestrian traffic laws and provide information to pedestrians on how to avoid vehicle and bike collisions. We need a Pedestrian Rights Day with additional patrols to enforce traffic laws and protect pedestrians in crosswalks from drivers who do not obey the law even at stop signs. Let’s restore respect to the rights of walkers, joggers and bicyclists.
— Beulah Amsterdam goes on a long walk most days, as she has done for more than 40 years in Davis.