Recent death, systematic failures

The needless pedestrian death of Jonathon Haney earlier this week is a symptom of several local problems concerning traffic control and pedestrian safety. As a self-evident point, many areas of Pine Bluff have no sidewalks or sidewalks that are in very poor condition. Equally important is the fact that many people in our community walk in the streets even when suitable sidewalks are present — which is a violation of a long-standing city ordinance. Concurrently, we have a largely unregulated culture of unsafe vehicle operation. Whether it be the excesses of youth, aggressive driving, speeding, failure to heed signals, driving while intoxicated, inattentive driving or simply unskilled driving, the car culture of Pine Bluff could be substantially better.

Of course, we are not alone in this crisis. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, in 2009, 4,092 pedestrians were killed and an estimated 59,000 were injured in traffic crashes in the United States. On average, a pedestrian was killed every two hours and injured every nine minutes in traffic crashes. While pedestrian deaths and injuries are on the decline, the statistics are still sufficiently grim.

The NHSTA also observes, “Almost three-fourths (72%) of pedestrian fatalities occurred in an urban setting versus a rural setting. Similarly, three-fourths (76%) of pedestrian fatalities occurred at non-intersections versus at intersections. Almost 90 percent of pedestrian fatalities occurred during normal weather conditions, compared to rain, snow and fog. A majority of the pedestrian fatalities, almost 70 percent, occurred during the night time. Between 2008 and 2009 all these percentages stayed relatively level.”

Among the most prone to victimization are the elderly and children. Each group represented approximately 19 percent of the annual toll. More than two-thirds of all pedestrians killed in 2009 were male.

Thirty-six percent of the 354 young (under age 16) pedestrian fatalities occurred in crashes between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Nearly one-half (48%) of all pedestrian fatalities occurred on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (16%, 17%, and 15%, respectively).

The problems Pine Bluff faces are not unique, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t very personal. We are a small town, a town where we know one another. When one of us hurts, all of us hurt. When terrible things happen, especially those that were easily avoidable, we owe it to the families left behind to take stock and ask what we can do differently.

According to the Center for Problem Oriented Policing, speed is a major contributor to pedestrian accidents. Speeding is an obvious problem in our community.

The POP Center research documents how small regulative changes in average vehicle speeds can have large effects in terms of pedestrian crash survivability: “Speed influences these crashes in two distinct ways. First, speed increases the chances of a collision. Simply, faster vehicle speeds make it more difficult for drivers to see pedestrians, and at the same time, high speeds reduce the amount of time the driver and pedestrian have to avoid a crash. Second, given a crash, the faster the vehicle the more severe the injury to the pedestrian. For example, a pedestrian hit at 40 mph has an 85 percent chance of getting killed, whereas the likelihood goes down to 45 percent at 30 mph and 5 percent at 20 mph.”

Statistics like these demonstrate the need for greater traffic regulation in general and more aggressive speed control in particular — as well as a higher priority for enforcement of pedestrian-related laws. Until we do a better job with these issues, we can expect a regular repeat of tragedies such as we have just endured.