Crosswalk Chronicles

Thanks to the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) for organizing the following Pedestrian and Driver Safety Tips. In light of the huge number of pedestrian injury and death incidents in Honolulu this year (see my recent article – Pedestrian Crosswalk Fatality In Kalihi Adds To Alarming Statistics by Wayne Parsons)

Pedestrian Safety Tips

  • Always cross within marked crosswalks or at street corners.
  • Look left, right, then left again for vehicular traffic before stepping onto the roadway.
  • Yield to any approaching vehicles while crossing even if you have the right of way. Oncoming vehicles may reach you faster than you anticipate.
  • Make eye contact with drivers to ensure that they see you.
  • Keep to the right of the crosswalk, and be patient and alert when crossing the street.
  • Walk across the street, never run.
  • Obey all traffic signals and use the pedestrian signal button at intersections.
  • Cross the street only when the green “Walk” light is on. Do not begin crossing if the red “Don’t Walk” or upraised hand is flashing or steady.
  • Be especially careful of vehicles that may turn right on red or turn left at an intersection. Drivers may be busy looking out for other vehicles instead of pedestrians.
  • If buses or other large vehicles are blocking your view, wait for them to pass before crossing. These vehicles may also be blocking the view of drivers in the other lanes.
  • Do not walk behind a vehicle that has its reverse lights on.
  • Walk on the sidewalk. If there is no sidewalk, walk on the left side of the roadway so you can see oncoming traffic.
  • Stand at least ten feet away from the curb while waiting at bus stops.
  • Do not allow your children to walk near roadways or cross the street unsupervised. Parents should accompany their young children until they are sure that their children can cross the street safely.

Driver Safety Tips

  • Stay focused and alert for pedestrians.
  • Stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk when the pedestrian is crossing on your half of the road.
  • Stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk when the pedestrian is approaching from the opposite half of the roadway and is close enough to be in danger.
  • Stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk while executing a right or left turn and the pedestrian is in the half of the roadway that your vehicle is entering.
  • Look out for pedestrians that may be hidden from view by other vehicles that have stopped.
  • Be extra vigilant for pedestrians when driving at dawn or dusk.
  • Anticipate the difficulties of the elderly or young children who are crossing the street.
  • Obey all traffic laws and pay attention to traffic control signals and posted signs.

Hawai‘i averages 28 pedestrian fatalities each year and 560 injuries from being struck by motorists. Hawai‘i is 4th highest pedestrian fatality rate, per capita, in the United States. The majority of the fatalities occurred because people failed to use crosswalks and did not cross at intersections. The most common reason why pedestrians were struck is because drivers failed to yield the right of way or were inattentive.

Hawai‘i has had too many deaths and tragic injuries of pedestrians struck in crosswalks. The problem has been so bad that scientific studies have been made to get to the root of the the problem. The University of Hawai‘i did a study “Modeling Violation of Hawai‘i’s Crosswalk Law” to address the issue. The Hawai‘i study has gained national attention by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Center For Biotechnology Information (NCBI).

The Hawai‘i crosswalk law was made more strict to raise awareness of pedestrians and it is working. But a law is not a complete solution. Personal responsibility and vigilance is still required.

Aside from scientific studies I have a few suggestions and warnings for pedestrians. I hope I never see another family in my law office telling me the story of their deceased family member – killed in a crosswalk. I can bring the lawsuit and recover money for the death but I can never bring their loved one back to the family.

A crosswalk has no barriers that protect pedestrians as they cross the street. The white stripes are not a safety zone for a pedestrian. We often see pedestrians in a cross walk looking down at their feet or straight ahead and almost refusing to “look both ways: before they cross the street. That rule – look both ways – is the most important one for pedestrians to remember. The driver of the car that is coming may be on the cell phone, may be adjusting their radio, may be distracted by something in their car or outside the car, may have bad vision and may not see you in the crosswalk.

You protest “May not see me!? How can that be? Well having handled many crosswalk cases over my career i can tell you that many people in crosswalks are virtually invisible. A person wearing clothes that blend into the background are nearly impossible to see. An example of this is the pedestrian who was crossing Kuhio Avenue at dusk, wearing dark clothing. The street is gray concrete which provides a good contrast to the dark clothing. If the car was dropping out of the sky, the pedestrian would be clearly visible. But the driver of the car that struck this pedestrian was looking toward the dark green foliage at the Honolulu Zoo a few blocks down the street.

The issue of who is right or wrong or at fault is meaningless when a car hits a pedestrian. Often that event results in death or serious permanent disability. Pedestrians must be proactive. They must assume that drivers don’t see them. A car is easy to see. The pedestrian can never claim that they couldn’t see a huge automobile coming toward them – if they look.