Concerned about the grave statistics of Florida’s pedestrian accidents, we caught up with the District One Secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation, Mr. Billy Hattaway, and discussed what the state is and has been doing to correct the problems, and how those efforts are working.
So it’s not that much hinged on the fact that it’s a great vacation destination?
No. Back in the ’90s we thought that our weather and tourism were big factors in this issue, but when you look at the corridors where the problems are, it’s not in areas of high tourism. It’s primarily in areas where we have high dependency on walking and transit where folks are having to walk from place to place because they aren’t car owners or they choose to not drive. So it’s a mixture. It’s mixing pedestrians in higher-speed corridors.
Primarily, does the blame go to the motorists, or is there a sprinkling of responsibility for the accidents from the pedestrians?
Depending on whose numbers you look at, the tendency is to be to blame the pedestrians. The challenge that we have is that very rarely are the crashes witnessed, and so the pedestrian is dead and the drivers blame the pedestrian. So it’s very difficult, I mean based on facts, which is what we engineers like to operate from, it’s very difficult to verify that that’s in fact true, but that’s how it gets recorded. If you go to the crash reports, the drivers will say, “Well, the pedestrian stepped out in front of me.”
And I think in some cases that’s true, but when I look at the Orlando area where I live and I look at the reports in the paper and it’s overwhelmingly the drivers saying, “The pedestrian stepped out in front me.” Personally, I have a difficult time accepting that pedestrians are just stepping out in front of cars that are speeding down on them. As a motorist, you’re supposed to maintain control of your vehicle, so I have a hard time accepting that it’s primarily the pedestrians at fault, but statistically that’s what it shows. I mean, drivers by and large are driving too fast for conditions and things of that nature as well, but if you look at the data, it will show you that the pedestrians are primarily at fault.
What is the state of Florida doing to help change that situation?
Well, we have a long list of things that we’re doing, an executive summary. It’s about two pages of things that we have underway. We started our campaign shortly after the beginning of 2012, after the 2011 report came out, and we started by really completely redefining and reestablishing our bicycle and pedestrian program.
Each of our seven geographic districts had someone who had as a part-time duty bike and ped responsibilities, which was not providing adequate emphasis, so one of the first things I did was to work with the districts to set up a dedicated bike-ped coordinator. That person deals with planning through design for pedestrian facilities and works with local governments on pedestrian plans. And then another position in the operations side, which is a bike-ped safety program specialist, they’re dealing with our existing safety corridor problems, basically going out and identifying what the corridors are and how we can address the safety problem for pedestrians and bicyclists. Both of those are full-time dedicated positions in each of the districts.
Likewise, I did the same thing in the central office. We also had a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration audit of our entire program. We had experts come in from all over the country with expertise and background in safety and accommodation for pedestrians and bicyclists to help us with assessing where our problems were, and they came up with a list of recommendations, and we used that to develop our first Strategic Bike/Ped Safety Plan, and that’s what we’re operating from.
Our campaign is called Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow, and if you go to our website, which is http://www.alerttodayflorida.com, there’s a complete listing of all the things that we’ve done. In terms of media, we’ve had obviously a lot of media campaigns that we’re also working to implement high-visibility enforcement in our worst corridors. We’ve just finished putting all of our 2012 safety data into a GIS database. We still don’t have all of the 2013 data yet, and so we’re working from 2012 data, and we’ve identified our worst corridors in the state.
Each of the districts is coming up with a plan on how to address the locations because each location has specific issues that are unique to that corridor. It could be lighting. It could be a lack of adequate crosswalks. I mean there are a number of things that could be the cause for that particular corridor. So, all of our districts are working on developing those plans.
Are you getting good support for your efforts?
Yes, we have our Secretary of the Florida DOT, Ananth Prasad. He’s over the whole agency. He’s the one that saw the problem as something that was not acceptable to him in a leadership role, and he brought me onboard specifically to champion this initiative. He’s the one that is behind all of this, and that has provided me just enormous backing to drive things fast and hard to get this change to occur in the state of Florida.
We have seven geographic districts, and I’m responsible for one of the seven. And, by the way, when we started this, we had four regions in the top five worst in the Dangerous by Design report. When he made his announcement that he had asked me to lead this to the assistant secretaries and district secretaries, he said, “We’re not going to stop with our top four. We’re going to work on our top ten worst regions with this focused initiative.” So we have a lot of ground to cover.
It’s not just four cities the way the Dangerous by Design article leads you to believe, like it lists Orlando. It’s really the entire Orange and Osceola County region, where the problems are, so it’s metropolitan Orlando, metropolitan Miami, metropolitan Tampa and metropolitan Jacksonville. It’s very large areas.
Getting back to the high-visibility enforcement, when we go into these corridors where we have problems, once we’ve identified the engineering solutions and are able to get those in place, depending on how much funding is involved, we’re also using the high-visibility enforcement to both educate and enforce against bad behavior with pedestrians and with the motorists.
One of our biggest problems is that we don’t get yielding behavior from the motorists at intersections, especially because we have right turn on red. Not everybody stops, and so drivers will encroach on pedestrians as pedestrians are crossing legally, and then we have pedestrians that – because our signals are so far apart in many places on the higher-speed roads, they are crossing where it makes sense for them to cross. In cases that can be a problem, depending on whether there are cars coming when they cross or not. So that’s an existing problem issue that we’re working on.
At the same time that we’re working on that, we’re also working on changing our approach to design and policies. I’m hoping that in August we will pass our first state Complete Streets policy, and we’ll be developing an implementation plan to carry that forward. We have a huge amount of work, and this is something that the Secretary and I, are determined to see the fatalities go down.
Have the numbers of pedestrian accidents begun to go down yet?
It’s too early to tell because, again, this last report, the 2014 Dangerous by Design, was based on data from 2012 and at that point in time our initiative was so new that we had not done the kinds of things that we need to do to drive the numbers down, and we’ve only gotten six months of the 2013 data. The early indication, based on the 2013 data, is that we saw some reductions, but until I see a long-term change, I’m not gonna celebrate.
What about the program termed Best Foot Forward? Is that something the State has worked with?
Actually, I’m the chair for Bike/Walk Central Florida, and the Best Foot Forward program is our program. Again, this is why the Secretary asked me to come back. He knew I was involved with this program, and it’s using the same approach, using engineering education and enforcement, and that has been a grassroots-funded initiative in the Orlando area, which is where I actually live. We focus on obviously yielding behavior for motorists but also educating the pedestrian at the same time, initially in those corridors where we’ve had real problems with yielding behavior. Then we use law enforcement to both provide warnings and and in some cases they actually issue tickets.
For example, if you go to our website, the Best Foot Forward link that’s on our Bike/Walk Central Florida website, there’s information on how the enforcement has improved the yielding rates on some corridors, but again, we still have a lot of work to do. The Orlando area is a huge area, and we’re trying to bite off bits and pieces based on our funding availability. We have to raise our own funds. It’s a 501(c)(3). But we’re working with the city and the counties, and they’re helping us with the funding.
Has it been a good idea to do the checkpoints at the crosswalks similar to DUI checkpoints?
That’s what we call high-visibility enforcement. Yes, because we had the media come out as well, or I should say they want to know any time we do this enforcement campaign, so it becomes news. Thankfully, the media has been very supportive, and they’ve put out public service announcements and put it on the news, which helps expand the coverage of our campaigns.
At those crosswalk checkpoints do you find that the motorists are getting the tickets, or are pedestrians also getting tickets for not crossing properly?
Well, we’re doing them at crosswalks, so in these locations where we’ve been working with the police, it’s where we’ve had problems with driver yielding when pedestrians are behaving properly, so we’ve got more drivers getting tickets. We don’t have a jaywalking law in Florida, contrary to popular belief, and so as long as a pedestrian is not stepping out in front of a car in such a way that the driver can’t slow down and yield to the pedestrian, unless they’re crossing at a place that’s clearly unsafe, there’s not much opportunity to ticket because pedestrians can cross at intersections, whether they’re marked or unmarked. They can cross anywhere really along the roadway as long as they don’t cause the driver to have to stop suddenly and in an unsafe fashion.
If there’s a crosswalk at an intersection, you should cross in the crosswalk. You can get ticketed for that, but it’s a fact that where people cross at locations where there’s not an intersection for 500 feet in each direction, they can legally cross.
What about distracted walking, texting and walking – is that becoming an issue?
I don’t know that we have adequate data because of the way the police reports and crash reports are done. We’ve got a lot of work to do with law enforcement, in terms of rewriting the laws, which we’re in the process of doing. We’ve started doing that, because many of the laws are written such a way that the layperson cannot understand what the law says and, consequently, law enforcement has problems understanding the law as do many of our engineers. The laws are just written in a way that they’re not very clear, so we’re in the process of rewriting many of the laws this year, and we’re going to try to get through the rest of them before our next legislative session, which comes this time next year.
So we have to improve the way the laws are written, and then we’ve got a lot of education to do, including the law enforcement, and, fortunately, we have a statewide coalition that includes Florida Highway Patrol and Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the Florida Association of Police Chiefs, the Florida Association of Sheriffs, and they’re all working with us to create what are called role call videos that they can show when they get together every morning to help educate law enforcement. And, of course, both our media and our high-visibility enforcement campaigns are all helping to educate the drivers and pedestrians and cyclists. But we’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s very much like getting the usage of seatbelts increased over time. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.
What do you tell drivers to convince them to be more aware?
What we try to get them to do is understand what the laws are and what bicyclists and pedestrians, what their rights and responsibilities are because there’re lots of misconceptions, and so, for example, when a pedestrian uses a crosswalk, the driver is supposed to yield. We actually had, at one of our high-visibility enforcement locations, a plainclothesman police, and a news reporter and her cameraman who were crossing in a legal crosswalk at the right time, there were two or three lanes in one direction, and a woman almost hit them.
And the police were downstream and they pulled her over, and she was belligerent that she was getting stopped. We have real attitude issues, both pedestrians and bicyclists and motorists. I mean we have bad behavior with all groups.
What about parent groups at schools? Is there a message that you give them about how to help safety for their kids?
We actually have information about a program called WalkWise on our website.
We’re working with school boards in different regions of the state to try to get the school boards to bring curriculum into the school system, and so in that curriculum it provides guidance to parents and teachers about what is the right behavior. And we’re hoping that, very much like with seatbelts, by going to the schools and educating the children, then they will start to put pressure on their parents to behave properly because that was a very effective tool that we used with seatbelts, and it did make a difference. Parents started wearing their seatbelts. And our seatbelt rates – our compliance rates have gone from about 50 percent back in the ’90s to right at 90 percent in the state of Florida. Because of all the different strategies, including making seatbelt enforcement a primary violation, which is wasn’t before.
What’s the highest pedestrian victim incident demographic?
Per the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor 2012 Traffic Crash Facts – for Pedestrian Crash Involvement, here’s the list by age/number of pedestrians involved in crashes:
*(For ages 45-54: Males injured 689/ fatal 74. Females injured 422 / fatal 20)
So children would not be considered a primary risk group for pedestrian accidents?
Because so few walk, fortunately they’re not. They don’t seem to be overrepresented. I mean we have very low walking rates in the state of Florida because everything is so spread out. We have beautiful weather. But I lived in the Northeast, and Boston has a very high rate of pedestrian activity so I can speak personally. There’s a lot of miserable weather up there, and people still walk because it’s just a different culture in the cities because things are located more conveniently and you don’t have the sprawl that we have down here in the Southeast and Texas, too. I mean Texas and Georgia and us all have similar issues. That’s why development patterns have a major role in this problem.
Thank you, Billy. I really appreciate your taking the time to talk to me today.
It was my pleasure.
Who is at fault in a crosswalk accident?
Determining who is at fault in a crosswalk accident, you usually look toward a statute. Statutes in most states say that a pedestrian facing a green light can cross the street or the roadway, unless the green signal is a turn arrow, and they can do that as long as they remain within any marked crosswalk, or if there are no marked crosswalks, they are still allowed to cross a street or roadway as long as they are facing a green light.
And all motor vehicles are required to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians that are lawfully within that intersection or crosswalk. If a light is yellow or red, a pedestrian is not supposed to enter a crosswalk or roadway unless, obviously, they have some other proper pedestrian crossing signal. If, for instance, you enter a crosswalk or roadway improperly, other vehicles/cars still have a responsibility to avoid hitting you, and so, there are statutes throughout the country that say, even when a pedestrian enters a crosswalk or tries to cross a street improperly, every driver should exercise due care to avoid colliding with them, and give some type of warning, if it’s possible, whether it’s beeping their horn or some other type of warning, if they have the ability to do that.
Ultimately, a driver of a motor vehicle tends to be in a better position to avoid an accident, and so, the law still places some responsibility on a driver to be able to stop if they can, or to be aware of their surroundings, and to take precautionary measures, if possible.
Who Is At Fault In A Pedestrian Accident
Trying to determine who’s at fault in a pedestrian accident depends on the facts of the particular incident. As with most other personal injury claims, it is governed by the law of negligence to determine who caused the accident. Basically, every person is expected to exercise a reasonable level of care under a given set of circumstances. So, for example, drivers and pedestrians are expected to obey traffic laws and the rules of the road when using streets, or highways, or crosswalks.
So, if Person A fails to act with reasonable care and ends up causing harm to Person B, the law considers Person A the negligent person, regardless of whether they were driving or they were walking. And so, if a pedestrian fails to exercise reasonable care in some way and it causes an accident, the pedestrian may be at fault as well. For example, if a pedestrian runs out between parked cars and into the path of an oncoming vehicle, and the driver of the vehicle cannot avoid hitting the pedestrian, the pedestrian will probably be considered at fault for the accident.
Similarly, if the driver of the vehicle had sufficient time or enough time to take evasive measures and failed to do so, they may be responsible for the accident. And so, ultimately, determining the negligence or the fault really depends on the particular circumstances. Obviously, a driver has a legal duty to know the roadway around them and to take reasonable care to avoid a pedestrian, whether that’s a person walking, or a bicyclist and, particularly, there is a greater duty of care around young children, who tend not to be predictable around vehicles.
When you’re looking at negligence of a pedestrian, you’re looking at a few common mistakes that either a driver or a pedestrian would make that may place them at fault for an accident. Common mistakes by pedestrians tend to be crossing a street on a Don’t Walk signal, walking or running into the flow of traffic, not using crosswalks, sprinting out in front of a car.
And a driver is usually considered negligent, and pedestrian accidents occur when they’re preoccupied for some reason, whether it’s on a cell phone, or some other reason, and failing to pay attention, or they’re not observing the speed limit, or a driver fails to yield the right-of-way at a crosswalk, or a driver fails to use a turn signal, or they fail to stop at a light or a stop sign, or as, in many cases, where they are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.