(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)
BE ALERT: Chataqua will bring more foot traffic to streets, but drivers and walkers should always be aware…
With a major state highway cutting through town, a Main Ave. that is a major route for large semi-trucks coming to and from Pend Orielle County and a bustling downtown, it’s important for pedestrians and drivers to have safe habits when crossing the road. With Chataqua this week, expect even more pedestrian traffic and be ready to stop.
For mother Korey Bovee, safety is as important as ever.
Her 10-year-old son suffered scrapes and bruises after an accident involving a semi-truck leaving the NAPA parking lot. She has since been looking at pedestrian and biker safety, asking people to be safer when traversing roads in Chewelah.
And there is valid concern there.
The number of pedestrian deaths in 2018 was the highest total in 28 years. The Governors Highway Safety Association estimated that 6,227 pedestrians were killed last year, a four percent jump from 2017 and a 35 percent increase since 2008.
Pedestrians are urged to be visible and make eye contact with drivers before crossing the street. People are also asked to cross in designated crosswalk areas and following traffic rules and signals. One factor that is now prevalent among people that wasn’t there years ago is smart phones. People are asked to put down the phone when using streets and sidewalks as they take your eyes off the road.
Chewelah Chief of Police Mark Burrows asks people to be intentional and look like you intend to cross the crosswalk or street. Sometimes this means you may have to take a step off the sidewalk where motorists can see you.
“Standing back from the crosswalk and glancing at your phone, waiting for traffic to stop is a poor plan,” Burrows said.
When it comes to growth of pedestrian deaths, experts say changes in population growth and economic conditions affect the amount of time people spend walking. There has also been an increase in light truck sales – which are more impactful if they come in contact with pedestrians.
Smart phones are a big factor, being used by both use while driving, and walkers. While smart phones are now illegal for drivers, walkers don’t have such a ban. It does seem to help though, as Washington was on the lower end of pedestrian fatalities and saw a decrease in deaths from January-June of 2017 to 2018. Spokane has actually installed messages on sidewalks to urge people on their phones to “look up.”
Accidents also don’t happen at just intersections, 72 percent of the time, fatal pedestrian accidents did not happen at intersections. Alcohol also is playing a role in these incidents as an estimated 32 percent of walkers and 17 percent of drivers were in fatal pedestrian crashes in 2017.
Chief Burrows asks people to make eye contact with drivers when crossing the street and make sure that the vehicle has stopped before continuing to cross in front of them in the street or crosswalk. When on a bike, it is even more important for the rider to stop and make eye contact to ensure that vehicles are fully stopped before proceeding across the crosswalk.
When it comes to bicycles, a bike is legally defined as a vehicle when on the road, and a pedestrian when on the sidewalk or crosswalk, so bike riders have the same rights and responsibilities as cars and truck drives.
Drivers are asked to be alert for pedestrians at all times when operating a vehicle. With how downtown is set up in Chewelah, this means even as people dart out in between vehicles.
Often pedestrians, young ones included, aren’t where they should be, and drivers are urged to be vigilant. Speed limit signs should always be followed, especially in areas of heavy walking traffic including school zones and neighborhood streets.
Visibility has been tough in downtown Chewelah, so much so that lines are being changed so people can see cars coming from down the street better without being obstructed by parked cars.
Chief Burrows said that when crossing the street, continue looking in both directions for the unexpected. This could include cars passing on the right which is illegal in Chewelah or bicyclists riding along the curb.
“Bicyclists are supposed to ride on the right side of the roadway, but some bicyclists ignore this traffic law,” Burrows explained. “This is hazardous because motorists don’t expect bikes to ride against the flow of traffic.”
Bad weather and visibility can also contribute to the issues, and people are asked to make sure their lights are on and signals are used properly. Drivers are also asked to be mindful backing out and pulling into driveways as pedestrians can easily enter into a driver’s path in these instances without their knowledge.
Always reduce your speed and yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. When stopped at one, ensure you have enough room between your vehicle and the crosswalk so other drivers can see the pedestrian crossing. Don’t pass a vehicle at a crosswalk either.