Stop Risking Pedestrians' Lives

Stop Risking Pedestrians' Lives

Police officers issued 28 citations and three warnings to motorists violating pedestrian right-of-way laws during a 90-minute, non-rush- hour period last Wednesday, May 1.

"We hear from pedestrians all the time who tell us they almost got run over by a car in the crosswalk," said Derek Baliles, spokesperson for the Montgomery County Police Department.

Along with police chief Charles A. Moose and county executive Douglas Duncan, police introduced the county's first Pedestrian Crosswalk Sting enforcement, a new regular enforcement of Maryland's pedestrian right-of-way laws.

Violations of the law include: failing to yield to a pedestrian in a marked crosswalk; passing a vehicle stopped for a pedestrian in a marked crosswalk; and blocking a crosswalk.

BETWEEN THE HOURS of 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., officers dressed in plain clothing — including yellow shirts and sweaters — took turns crossing the street in a non-signalized marked crosswalk on Old Georgetown Road at Cordell Avenue. Other officers acted as spotters who passed on car descriptions and license plate numbers to officers stationed a block away in both directions.

The most common response from a motorist who failed to yield to a pedestrians was that he or she didn't see the pedestrians, according to police.

"We didn't want to fool anyone, that's why we were wearing yellow shirts and sweaters," said Baliles. "It was not surprising that we found so many drivers buzzing through crosswalks because in the past we've had uniformed officers standing in a crosswalk and they zoom by them."

The average speed of motorists approaching the crosswalk was 30 miles per hour and the fastest speed recorded in the 25 mile per hour zone was 38, according to police documents.

"It showed us the necessity of getting out there, educating people and enforcing the laws," said Baliles.

IN 2002, there have been six pedestrian fatalities in Montgomery County; there were 14 altogether last year.

The penalty for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk is up to two months in jail and a $500 fine. It is also a "must-appear-in-court" offense.

"There are serious consequences outside of possibly injuring someone, so serious, they [the motorist] may end up, at the discretion of a judge, going to jail," said Baliles. "It is a must-appear-in-court — you can't say, 'I'll pay the fine.' The judge will tell you how serious this is."

"CROSSING THE STREET shouldn't be a death-defying act," said Del. Bill Bronrott (D-16), chair of the Montgomery County Blue Ribbon Panel on Pedestrian and Traffic Safety. The final report, approved by Duncan in January, makes 54 recommendations on ways the county can make roadways safer for pedestrians and motorists, including educational efforts, enforcement efforts and engineering options for the county.

"For the past five years, pedestrian fatalities in the county have exceeded the number or homicides during the same period," said Duncan, when he introduced the final report in January. "We must take even more aggressive measures to make our streets safer."

See, and click on pedestrian safety.

The crosswalk is one of the enforcement tools recommended by the panel. Police officers also handed out information to drivers and pedestrians to educate them about pedestrian laws.

"Pedestrian Crosswalk Sting" enforcement and educational operations will eventually be performed in all six Montgomery County police districts.

The next right-of-way enforcement is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, June 12 in the fourth police district.

"We're asking drivers to do the lawful responsible thing. As Mr. Duncan said, 'The loss of one life is too much,'" said Baliles.