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Op-Ed: A Pedestrian’s Point of View

The intersection of Farmington Avenue and North and South Main streets was the site of a fatal crash involving a pedestrian on June 3, 2022. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

A West Hartford resident, who is legally blind, has some advice for drivers.

By Mary Silverberg

The current attitude appears to be that pedestrians are not careful enough. I do not have a death wish.

As a person who is legally blind, when I am waiting for the white walk sign and audible signal to cross the street, I am listening; is the driver impatiently waiting to turn, revving the engine? gradually or abruptly stopping? I am watching (as best as I can); is the driver over the stop line? or in the cross walk? or already impatiently partially turned, waiting to “get a jump” on traffic before the light changes. Is the driver speeding through the crosswalk while I am already crossing the street within the boundary of the crosswalk?

I have had these “near misses” happen to me many times. I would never dream of crossing a street “mid-block”!

Distracted drivers will not see a guide dog, or white cane, or person with a stroller, or in a wheelchair while texting or talking on the phone or performing some other task while driving.

Seventy to 80% of drivers fail to STOP when making a right turn on red or at stop signs. Speeding up when a traffic light turns to amber and running a red light is commonplace. Today, there is an apparent unwillingness to follow rules and traffic laws, whether on the road, sidewalk, in parking lots – or even inside the supermarket. The mindset is, all to often, I must get from point A to point B, DON’T GET IN MY WAY!!!

We speak about being kind, considerate and respectful of others, but only when behavior is not required to change.

It took a generation to effect change with the installation of seat belts and shoulder harnesses, and even longer for people to use them. The concept of safety had to be “sold” for people to use them and reduce injuries and fatalities. This “buy in” included the government, auto manufactures, the media, law enforcement and individuals.

The immediate and ever-present media has the power to effect change. I recently saw a Connecticut television news reporter, reporting on road safety from their car as they were driving and taking their eyes off the road to look into the camera. This is an example of how driving has come to be viewed as an incidental function while being engaged in other activities.

A recent car commercial on television boasts that the automatic braking system will pay attention and stop the car even if a pedestrian doesn’t. The commercial doesn’t even suggest that the driver should be paying attention. This emphasizes that only the pedestrian should be careful and excuses the driver from any responsibility.

Every day, we hear of increasing numbers of crashes and car-pedestrian accidents. Many of these incidents result in deaths and life altering injuries. Yes, something needs to be done! We can build all kinds of protection; traffic lights, additional stop signs, guardrails on sidewalks, raised walkways and rotary configurations on our roads. While all of these are possible improvements, the other half of the equation is that drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians must all pay attention and take responsibility for our behavior. We need to adhere to the laws and safeguards which are already in place. Laws need to be enforced and people need to obey the laws.

In schools we teach our children the need to be kind, considerate and respectful to each other. As adults, we need to be kind, considerate and respectful. We need to care.

The Vision Zero Initiative and Task Force recently adopted in West Hartford is a well-intentioned initiative to promote and execute good safety practices on roadways and sidewalks! It will only be successful if people slow down, pay attention, and navigate the roads in a more respectful and considerate manner.

Mary Silverberg is co-chair of the West Hartford Advisory Commission for Persons with Disabilities and Second Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut.

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