Cam­paigns Aim At Curb­ing Auto-Pedes­trian Fa­tal­i­ties

Riverbank News - - NEIGHBORHOOD VALUES -

AURORA, Colo. — Twice in a week this month in un­re­lated col­li­sions, cars bar­reled into pedes­tri­ans on East Col­fax Av­enue, killing one man and se­ri­ously hurt­ing an­other.

And in­ves­ti­ga­tors say those two crashes are far from out­liers. They’re part of a dis­turb­ing spike in auto vs. pedes­trian crashes, par­tic­u­larly fatal ones, across Colorado.

In one of the crashes, a ve­hi­cle po­lice think was a white Cadil­lac Es­calade hit a man near Col­fax and Clin­ton Street June 11. The pedes­trian later died at a lo­cal hospi­tal and po­lice are still search­ing for the driver who fled the scene.

Six days later, a man cross­ing the street near Col­fax and Peo­ria Street was hit by a car. That man was se­ri­ously in­jured in the crash but po­lice said he is ex­pected to sur­vive. Sur­veil­lance cam­eras at a nearby busi­ness caught footage of the ve­hi­cle, which also fled the scene, and later in the week po­lice were able to find the ve­hi­cle and the driver. Charges in that case are still pend­ing.

In all, fatal auto vs. pedes­trian crashes have nearly dou­bled statewide dur­ing the past decade. In re­sponse, lo­cal po­lice and state trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials have launched cam­paigns aimed not just at driv­ers who are of­ten at fault in these crashes, but also pedes­tri­ans, who po­lice say some­times are as dis­tracted as the worst dis­tracted driv­ers.

Last week lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cers hit Aurora streets tot­ing fly­ers de­tail­ing the risks of auto pedes­trian crashes. The goal, Aurora po­lice spokesman Of­fi­cer Ken­neth For­rest said, is to get the mes­sage through to pedes­tri­ans that they are put­ting them­selves at se­ri­ous risk if they don’t obey traf­fic laws.

Of­fi­cers can write tick­ets for jay­walk­ing, but For­rest said that is rarely the route they pre­fer to go. In­stead, he said the fly­ers and a con­ver­sa­tion about ba­sic traf­fic safety can go a long way.

“The big thing is to get the in­for­ma­tion out there,” he said.

Po­lice try to fo­cus that mes­sag­ing on the stretches of road where cars and peo­ple are most likely to come into dan­ger­ous con­tact. One of those ar­eas is near the An­schutz Med­i­cal Cam­pus, where cars zoom­ing past on Col­fax and Peo­ria mo­tor near thou­sands of work­ers, stu­dents and pa­tients every­day.

“The Col­fax cor­ri­dor is al­ways busy, just a dense pop­u­la­tion and a lot of cars,” he said. “We do have a lot of auto-peds in that area.”

While Col­fax had a cou­ple of the most-re­cent auto vs. pedes­trian crashes in Aurora, it’s hardly alone.

East Sixth Av­enue near Del Mar Park is a tough spot, For­rest said.

Last month, a 17- yearold girl was killed at Sixth and Peo­ria, just north of the park, when she was struck by a car. Po­lice later said that driver stayed at the scene and won’t face charges be­cause it ap­pears the young girl caused the crash by dart­ing into oncoming traf­fic.

South Ha­vana Street is al­ways a prob­lem area, For­rest said, be­cause the speed lim­its there are higher than they are on other streets, so the risk of death or se­ri­ous in­jury is greater.

One of the mes­sages po­lice are try­ing to drive home, For­rest said, is that a car doesn’t have to be hurtling at high­way speeds to kill a pedes­trian. If a ve­hi­cle is go­ing 40 mph, a com­mon speed on metro streets, and it hits a pedes­trian, For­rest said data shows the pedes­trian dies 90 per­cent of the time.

And just as so­ci­ety’s at­tach­ment to their phones can lead to more dis­tracted driv­ers, For­rest said those de­vices can be risky for pedes­tri­ans, too.

Dis­tracted pedes­tri­ans are noth­ing new, he said, and po­lice have long wor­ried about peo­ple try­ing to walk near busy streets while eat­ing or do­ing some­thing else that takes their fo­cus off of cars rolling by.

Phones just added an­other newer dis­trac­tion.

“They are still eat­ing now, but they have their cell phone, they have their GPS,” he said.

Back in 2010, 40 pedes­tri­ans were killed on Colorado’s roads, ac­cord­ing to the Colorado De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion.

That num­ber ac­tu­ally marked a de­cline from the prior few years, which saw 51 fa­tal­i­ties in 2009 and 47 in 2008.

But the num­bers have since bal­looned to more than 90 last year, ac­cord­ing to CDOT.

So far in 2018, there have been at least 30 fa­tal­i­ties on Colorado’s roads.

Auto vs. pedes­trian crashes make up a small frac­tion of the over­all num­ber of fa­tal­i­ties on Colorado’s roads. Last year, there were 648 fa­tal­i­ties on Colorado’s roads and just half of those killed — 320 — were driv­ers.

Still, while the to­tal of all road fa­tal­i­ties was up from the year prior, it was up just 6 per­cent, from 640 to 648, and up 44 per­cent from 2010.

Auto vs. pedes­trian fa­tal­i­ties are up 130 per­cent from 2010, and that’s a par­tic­u­larly trou­bling trend for state trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials.

“Pedes­trian fa­tal­i­ties, sadly, in this state are spik­ing, even more than the state av­er­age for fa­tal­i­ties over­all,” said Sam Cole, a spokesman for CDOT.

Fig­ur­ing out ex­actly why these par­tic­u­lar fatal crashes have spiked is tricky, Cole said.

Cer­tainly, the state’s pop­u­la­tion growth plays a role in it, he said. More peo­ple call­ing Colorado home means more cars on the road and more pedes­tri­ans.

Traf­fic con­ges­tion is also likely a fac­tor be­cause it might mean more peo­ple are opt­ing to walk rather than sit­ting in traf­fic.

The big­gest is­sue, though, Cole said, is the same thing at the root of many traf­fic safety mat­ters: dis­trac­tion.

“It does boil down to hu­man be­hav­ior though, both on the part of driv­ers and pedes­tri­ans,” he said.

That means driv­ers look­ing down at their phones and not see­ing pedes­tri­ans in cross­walks, but also pedes­tri­ans not pay­ing at­ten­tion traf­fic sig­nals, he said.

Dis­tracted driv­ers get more at­ten­tion in the traf­fic safety dis­cus­sion, but Cole said there are sim­ple steps pedes­tri­ans can take to help en­sure they don’t get hit, mainly by pay­ing at­ten­tion and avoid­ing cross­ing streets mid block — jay­walk­ing.

“We’re not vic­tim-blam­ing you, we are sim­ply try­ing to keep you safe,” he said. “Un­til there are per­fect driv­ers out there, you need to be care­ful.”

In re­cent years, CDOT has used a cam­paign built around a fic­tional char­ac­ter named “Fred Es­trian” to bang the drum about pedes­trian safety. This spring they brought the char­ac­ter back with videos and fly­ers warn­ing pedes­tri­ans about the risks on the road.

Cole said he thinks the bulk of pedes­tri­ans get the mes­sage about the risks of get­ting by a speed­ing car that weighs thou­sands of pounds. The tough hur­dle to get over is the false sense of se­cu­rity so many peo­ple have.

“Most peo­ple do un­der­stand that, they just have a false sense of se­cu­rity and think they will be seen, and you never want to take that chance,” he said.

CDOT has also en­listed the help of some of the peo­ple most-di­rectly ef­fected by auto vs. pedes­trian crashes to help get their mes­sage out.

One of those is Robye Noth­nagel.

A driver in Texas ran into the Ea­gle wo­man last year while she was vis­it­ing there, leav­ing her with a frac­tured pelvis and a shat­tered leg.

The car was go­ing about 40 mph when the driver smashed into Noth­nagel, send­ing her fly­ing onto the hood and then the wind­shield.

“The girl was look­ing down at her phone,” Noth­nagel said.

The driver later told po­lice she didn’t even see Noth­nagel un­til she came up in the wind­shield. That meant she was so dis­tracted, she never saw Noth­nagel, nor the other five peo­ple she was with walk­ing down the street. She also didn’t no­tice the wo­man on her hood un­til a split sec­ond later when that wo­man slammed into the wind­shield.

“First time I read ( the po­lice re­port), it made me al­most throw up,” she said.

Today, Noth­nagel hopes to make sure no other pedes­trian goes through what she went through.

She said she has fully elim­i­nated her own cell phone use while walk­ing or driv­ing and now speaks to young peo­ple and busi­ness groups about the dan­gers of dis­tracted driv­ing.

Her crash left her in the hospi­tal for weeks and un­able to walk for months. Still, she is well aware of the sta­tis­tics for pedes­tri­ans hit by cars go­ing as fast as the one that smashed into her.

“I re­al­ize I am lucky and grate­ful for be­ing here,” she said.

Among the other ad­vo­cates she has met, she said she is the rare cases.

“Most peo­ple who ad­vo­cate in re­gards to dis­tracted driv­ing are do­ing it be­cause they lost a loved one,” she said.

Beyond get­ting peo­ple to put their phones down, she said she wants to see the laws changed so the public has a bet­ter idea of just how per­va­sive dis­tracted­driv­ing-caused crashes are. Po­lice re­ports need a sim­ple box that crash in­ves­ti­ga­tors can check say­ing a crash was the re­sult of a dis­tracted driver, she said.

In her case in Texas, and in oth­ers in Colorado, po­lice don’t have that op­tion.

“My crash was not a statis­tic in dis­tracted driv­ing,” she said.

The box in her case just said “other.”

Noth­nagel said she also wants to get the mes­sage out that it isn’t just teenagers or young peo­ple who are hooked on their phones and can’t seem to look away.

The teens she speaks to ac­tu­ally seem to grasp the risk of dis­tracted driv­ing, she said.

It’s the adults in their lives who don’t have such a keen grasp on the risks.

“It’s re­ally the par­ents that are send­ing the mes­sage to the kids,” she said. “They are mod­el­ing their be­hav­ior. The par­ents need to be more aware of it, too.”

Aurora po­lice seek ve­hi­cle in­volved in Col­fax hit-an­drun crash early Sun­day-June 18, 2018In “0Trend­ing”

Wo­man charged in fatal Aurora auto- pedes­trian crash-Jan­uary 17, 2017In “Metro”

Crash marks 1st death in­volv­ing fully au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle-March 20, 2018In “Na­tion”

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