The recent incident in Ann Arbor, where a University of Michigan student wasstruck by a car while walking in a crosswalk on Plymouth road, has sparked new conversation about pedestrian safety. How much caution do flashing lights provide? Is distracted driving more often than not the cause of fatal accidents?The disastrous accident in which Sharita Williams was killed is a clear reminder of two notable things: that pedestrians must always use caution when crossing streets and that distracted driving should be eliminated at all costs.
In the city of Ann Arbor, the crosswalk laws were re-worded two years ago. A press release from the City of Ann Arbor explains that the prior ordinance required "a vehicle to stop for a pedestrian 'approaching or within' a marked crosswalk...." while the new ordinance requires "a vehicle to stop for a pedestrian standing 'at the curb' as well as 'within the crosswalk." In addition, as an article from annarbor.com titled "Number of pedestrian-vehicle crashes up in Ann Arbor since adoption of crosswalk ordinance" states, the city's ordinance requires vehicles to stop for pedestrians standing at the curb, while the state's MichiganTraffic Code requires cars yield to pedestrians.
While this changes the wording of the law, attempting to make it safer for pedestrians crossing the street, it is important for people to not let their guard down and to use caution. There is no evidence yet to suggest that the change in wording has increased or decreased the number of pedestrian-vehicle crashes. In the tragic case of Sharita Williams' death, just because there is a crosswalk and flashing lights to notify drivers, these efforts at improved safety are on no consequence if drivers are still distracted from their driving. According to a recent article from annarbor.com the most dangerous intersection for walkers and bikers are in downtown Ann Arbor along Huron street; however, other places such as Plymouth Road can be very risky.
At all times, cautious pedestrians should be paired with safe, non-distracted drivers. The incident on Plymouth Road is a reminder that even when the City takes action to prevent harmful accidents, people are still responsible for driving safely with as little distractions as possible. Every added element that is not the steering wheel or gas peddle counts as a distraction. Tracy Samilton from NPR says that even being late is an added distraction that impedes safe driving.
All of this means that crossing the street can be deadly, especially on busy streets such as Plymouth and Huron in Ann Arbor. It also means that it is part pedestrian, part driver to ensure the safety of people in cross-walks. Driving distracted is risky and unsafe. Walking and talking on a cell phone, listening to music, or texting while walking can also be a major distraction for pedestrians who need to be alert, free of distractions, and always cautious when crossing streets.