The majority of drivers responsible for the deaths of pedestrians faced no criminal charges during a five-year period from 2007-2011 in the largest Bay Area counties, according to a new review by the Center for Investigative Reporting. One-third of the pedestrians killed were legally in the crosswalk when they were hit. We discuss pedestrian safety and driver accountability.

Elizabeth Stampe, executive director of Walk San Francisco, a pedestrian advocacy organization
David Grant, board member of California WALKS, a statewide organization of affiliated nonprofit and volunteer groups that advocate for pedestrians, and former chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) Regional Pedestrian Committee and the MTC Citizens Pedestrian Safety Committee
Adithya Sambamurthy, video producer for the Center for Investigative Reporting
Rajiv Bhatia, environmental health director for the San Francisco Dept. of Public Health; but he joins us in his capacity as a physician and public health practitioner

  • Mel

    We need to refactor existing cities to encourage walking and limit vehicular traffic. If there is less hassle in walking and less risk for walkers, people will walk more.

    I am under the impression that Berkeley limited traffic years ago by
    placing large traffic-blocking planters at the ends of streets, forming
    cul de sacs.

    Besides decreasing traffic, cities need to protect walkers from out of control drivers. Cars going onto walkways can be stopped using bollards, which are thick metal poles. These are extensively used in Europe.

    Lastly, people will walk more if their cities don’t look like cráp. The Bay Area has a ton of pricey real estate that, if it were anywhere else, would be nearly worthless because it is architectural detritus.

  • James R

    How does drivers responsible for the deaths of pedestrians faced no criminal charges compare to drivers responsible for the deaths of passengers and other drivers in vehicle crashes?

    Our high pedestrian fatality rate is a side effect of Bay Area prosperity. As the population increases so does vehicles on the road and driving distances. Over loaded state highways running in urban areas increase the odds of pedestrian death or life changing injuries. California state highways were not designed for the traffic they are now required to process. Implementing pedestrian safety impovements is an uphill battle becasue Caltrans’s job is to tweek our urban highways to accomadate the traffic increase. For Caltrans to make safety changes is to admit it wasn’t safe before the latest fatality.

  • Drivers that strike pedestrians should have licenses suspended for a time. Drivers that kill pedestrians should lose licenses permanently. A drivers license is merely a privilege.

  • Rich

    I drive a truck in San Fransisco and I find that a part of the problem is that pedestrians ignore the cross walk signs. Start crossing on the flashing red. Walk slow when they are in the cross walk or have their music up and not paying attention to their surroundings.
    Solution would be to ticket jay walkers.

    • Brenda

      This is the other side of the problem for sure–pedestrians often aren’t even looking as they blindly enter the crosswalk. With headphones or on smart phones or otherwise deliberately/defiantly walk slow or all 3. I often wonder – do the value their own life?!

    • SF_Abe

      have you ever bumped into a person because you weren’t looking where you were going? That’s as much responsibility as the pedestrian bears if they’re not looking where they’re going. (hint– nobody dies when two people bump into each other)

  • Tim

    As a police officer in California whose wife was struck in a crosswalk when she was pregnant, I think California should consider making the
    requirements to obtain a driver’s license more difficult. The testing process is laughable and driver’s licenses are handed out like library

    • Slappy

      As a good driver who is constantly blocked by slow and incompetent drivers in the left lane, I concur.

      • SF_Abe

        @Slappy, totally the same situation!

      • Pontifikate

        Slow is not necessarily incompetent. WIth poor signage on many roads and impatient drivers, those making turns, especially in left lanes, need indulgence. Not everyone has travelled the same roads a million times. Some are tourists or new to the area.

    • aa aa

      This does not target the problem enough since some people who do fine on monitored tests will be careless about pedestrians when driving on their own, particularly if they know there will be little penalty for hiting pedestrians. More effective would be consistent prosecution against those who kill or injure pedestrians, which per this program, rarely happens, to my shock and horror.

  • kevin c.

    Not going to be popular, but no turns on red. Simple, low cost; it will cut deaths and injuries in half. Maybe just more “no turn on red” in more intersections.
    Also the Ped crosswalks are for the most part not well marked. The public is not really aware of them. I get honked at for stoping at a Ped walk.

  • Monsieur Oblong

    As an avid walker, runner, cyclist, and motorcyclist, I’m all too familiar with how rarely drivers get cited when seriously injuring or killing a vulnerable person who is not in a car.

    However, is 15mph in school zones a joke? Please tell me there are clear rules about when and where — the existing 20mph school zones we’re all familiar with are already a joke. They say “when children present” but it’s completely vague as to whether this means “when school is in session” or “when kids are on the playground on weekends” or “any time a cop decides to cite you and claim children lived in a house down the block”.

    15mph is how fast I go on my bicycle when I’m taking a break. It’s literally crawling in a motor vehicle.

    I’d like to see a focus on having cut-outs on the street for street parking, so that pedestrians are actually visible when they stand on a corner waiting to cross. Otherwise, pedestrians are forced to stand half in the street in order to see if traffic is coming, and from a driver’s perspective, they “step out from nowhere” because they’re hidden behind a parked car.

    • Pontifikate

      Many times cars, especially overnight when drivers think they will not be ticketed, are parked on corners where the curb is marked red. That makes it almost impossible for both pedestrians and cars coming from that corner, to see or be seen. I’d like to see the DPT go around at night and tow these vehicles away since they are as hazardous as moving vehicles.

  • Forget community service or fines—suspend their licenses! That will have greater impact on driving behavior.

    It’s only fair. What do you think the people injured by drivers are
    doing? Many can’t drive for prolonged periods due to their injuries. Some have to move out of upper floor bedrooms, some end up in nursing homes during rehab. Their lives are upside down, assuming of course, that they survive.

    But how will the careless drivers get to work without a license? Take the bus, catch a ride, walk or ride a bike. Plenty of people get by without driving even in the suburbs: people prone to seizures, people with poor vision, people with limited incomes and many others. Why can’t drivers who kill and injure be expected do the same?

  • Karen Westmont

    As expert in this field Peter Jacobsen says, when people die on planes, huge #s of resources are diverted to the investigation, but when people die on streets little documentation even is noted because such deaths are considered normal life.

    Sweden has adopted Vision 0 where no one will die from road accidents.

  • Monsieur Oblong

    I’d like to hear the guest who spoke about the crosswalk timing standard speak to whether SF adheres to these standards. As an able-bodied male in my early 30s, when I use a crosswalk with a countdown timer, I walk across the intersection in roughly *half* the time it gives. I agree that the standard should be set so that the average elderly person has enough time to cross, but we cannot take every possible case into account or every crosswalk will have a 2 minute timer.

    It’s my impression that SF already gives way more time than the “3.5 feet per second” cited.

  • Ginny Bahr

    Case in point: intersection Laguna and Bay- there is a no right on red sign for drivers going east on Bay to turn south on Laguna. The green for right turns is when the pedestrians have a walk signal. Mind you there is a senior living home at the corner. Laguna has a green left arrow, which would naturally be the safest time to turn right, yet it’s still forbidden. what gives?

  • Some crossing lights in SF are simply to short. I’m a healthy, 5’9″ woman with a long stride and I can barely make it across the street before the light changes on downtown streets when I step off the curb the second the pedestrian light allows. Each time I have a car roar past me inches away as I’m stepping into the curb I wonder what elderly and disabled people do at those intersections.

  • Hugh

    I couldn’t agree more with your guests. Planning is key. On Park Blvd. in Oakland when the Key System was ripped out the City added two lanes and created a highway going right through the middle of a neighborhood with 3 day care, 4 schools, and several senior homes.

    Drivers speed through the neighborhood at 40mph more. Several people have been hit, and even drivers have been killed because they can’t handle the speeds their driving at.

    The City of Oakland so far has refused many of our suggestions for safety improvements, and what they have done (lowering the speed limit, installing digital speed signs) has done little to nothing.

    The City Engineers have stated openly they can’t do anything because it would negatively impact traffic flow, and the politicians are more concerned with the voices of irate drivers than the safety of pedestrians. None of them are interested in improving the planning.

    Frankly the City of Oakland is being negligent.

  • Daniel

    I’m a driver and a pedestrian. When I approach a cross walk, right of way or not, I stop and look for oncoming traffic. I then put a little pep in my step and get to the other side. I teach this to my son as well. I wish I had a dollar for every time I have either seen:
    a) a jogger/ walker step straight into the street without pausing or even looking
    b) a jogger/ walker rush to the cross walk, enter the cross walk, slow down to cross and then pick up the pace once on the other side

    I am by no means declaring that pedestrians deserve to be hit. Again, I cross many streets by foot. In my car I stop continually for pedestrians, as I should of course. I think one can be a courteous driver as well as a courteous pedestrian.

    • David J Gill

      Strangely, this observation is quite true. When I’m driving and I witness this behavior I wonder if it is some kind of active contempt or some little power trip to delay drivers as much as possible. When I’m walking at a cross-walk I too try to “move-it” a little for my own safety and to be polite to the driver. I’m amazed that so few people think the way I do on this one! Not that I’m such a genius…it just seems obvious.

      • SF_Abe

        it could be that they don’t want to appear to be “darting” through the intersection. Slow, steady, and visible is better than “I didn’t see him– he jumped right out into the street.”

      • aa aa

        See above in reply to Daniel. The reason I often slow down while in the crosswalk with my kid is that a driver shows no sign whatsoever of slowing down or stopping for us, and I refuse to take my kid right in front of a driver who WILL hit us if we walk at a constant pace and s/he does not slow down! If the driver finally slows down or stops for us, then I do pick up the pace. It’s not a power trip, it’s a safety precaution, since many rude reckless drivers just keep driving right past us, making us stop and let THEM by and leaving us stuck in the middle of the crosswalk vulnerable to rude reckless drivers coming from the other direction.
        If you see a pedestrian slow down in a crosswalk, please, slow down too. Don’t barrel past them. They may be trying to avoid being hit.

    • aa aa

      I often slow down while in the crosswalk with my kid if the driver shows no sign whatsoever of slowing down or stopping for us, and I refuse to take my kid right in front of a driver who WILL hit us if we walk at a constant pace and s/he does not slow down! If the driver finally slows down or stops for us, then I do pick up the pace. But I can’t tell you how many times the rude reckless driver just keeps driving right past us, while we had to stop and let THEM by, leaving us stuck in the middle of the crosswalk vulnerable to rude reckless drivers coming from the other direction.
      If you see a pedestrian slow down in a crosswalk, please, slow down too. Don’t barrel past them. They may be trying to avoid being hit.

      The lack of prosecuation against drivers who hit pedestrians shows what a sham the environmental reputation of California is. Pedestrians, who help the environment and health issues by walking rather than driving, have no real right to life or safety, while drivers, who harm the environment and health outcomes, are encouraged to continue driving, since they have every reason to fear for their life if they too do the environmentally correct & healthy thing.

  • TK_PhD

    I hear almost everyone here blaming cars, but so often I see pedestrians walking around as if crosswalks and lights are a shield (while talking on cell phones or not even watching for cars). Pedestrians need to remember that even if they are in the right, that they are the ones that are going to be injured, and watch out for themselves more vigilantly.

    • Chris OConnell

      I hope no one blamed cars. Cars are inanimate objects. But they should blame the drivers.

  • Gene

    I’ve been told numerous times that a driver is required to stop and remain stopped while a pedestrian is in a crosswalk. My understanding
    from the CA Vehicle Code is that there is not a need to remain stopped, only that the pedestrian a a right to cross without stopping or taking any other defensive action.

    • John Tweed

      I’m confused too now… I do know that in that more advanced state North of us, (Oregon) it is illegal to enter a cross walk at any time there’s a pedestrian in it. But now I’m not so sure about CA.

  • Ginny Bahr

    Case in point: Bay and Laguna intersection- driving east on Bay to turn south on Laguna there is a no right on red. The green to turn is when the pedestrians have a walk sign. There is a senior living home on the corner there. There is a green left turn only on Laguna which would be safest time to turn right from Bay- but it is forbidden.

  • Gloria

    I’m an RN who works with seniors. I also teach mindfulness, fall prevention, and am a fitness expert. We need to stop and think. It’s that simple. 3 deep breaths once you’re behind the wheel. Two hands on the wheel. Stop and think, please!

  • Has any one tried a similar timer as used for pedestrians for drivers? Green light counts down to the red light with the numbers turning yellow at 5 or 4 seconds. A line could even be added to take the guess work out of when the driver should slow down to stop and when they should have time to make it through the light.

  • Ehkzu

    Anyone who commutes to work on a bicycle–as I did for 20 years–can tell you that despite all the ways many bicyclists flout the driving laws, we’re continually endangered by drivers even when we are obeying all the rules. Drivers almost never signal lane changes or turns, often roll through stops, and use the principle that they have the “might of way” in all encounters with cyclists.
    And they’re never prosecuted for running down bicyclists.

  • Ehkzu

    Red light cameras are today’s new improved version of the good old speed trap. The people who run red lights in a way that causes accidents go through them an average of five seconds after the light has changed.
    But it’s easy to test this: set up red light cameras to include yellow light durations that aren’t as short as they can get away with.

  • Colin

    The guests have claimed that a car cannot legally enter a crosswalk in CA when a pedestrian is in it. I do not believe that is true. The CA Vehicle Code says cars must yield to pedestrians, but does not make it illegal to enter a crosswalk if doing so does not put the pedestrian at risk. Perhaps this judgement about whether the car yielded sufficiently or not is a source of lack of prosecution.

    • Pontifikate

      A PR campaign is sorely needed on this.

    • Chris OConnell

      Just a suggestion: replace “car” with “driver” please. Cars don’t do anything.

  • Colin

    CA V C Section 21950 Right of Way at Crosswalks

    Right-of-Way at Crosswalks

    21950. (a) The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.

    (b) This section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

    (c) The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian within any marked or unmarked crosswalk shall exercise all due care and shall reduce the speed of the vehicle or take any other action relating to the operation of the vehicle as necessary to safeguard the safety of the pedestrian.

    (d) Subdivision (b) does not relieve a driver of a vehicle from the duty of exercising due care for the safety of any pedestrian within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.

    • jj

      The definition of ambiguous if you ask me.

  • Jon Gold

    Hello USA! I’ve been to Japan, Germany and other countries that have seemed to figure it out! At busy intersections or any with cyclists and pedestrians, traffic lights are designed for each lane of traffic, bicycles and pedestrians. For example; all lights are red for motorists while all pedestrians cross at once, kind of like in the financial district of SF. There’s never a time, in Germany, for example, when a car is turning left with on coming traffic. That driver has their own green, like a green arrow, but only for the left turners…

    • Pontifikate

      Yes, anyone who has traveled, in the US and abroad, has found that other cities do it better. Why doesn’t SF study other cities? We call ourselves the “city that knows how”. What a joke. It’s hubristic to think that we haven’t lots to learn from other cities.

  • Jon Gold

    We have the technology to make the intersections lights for one lane of motorists, crosswalk pedestrians or cyclists at a time only!!!

  • Mrs. Eccentric

    Thank you for addressing this subject. I was born in Fresno and moved to the east bay 5 years later. I’m 50 years old and have been an avid walker since i was about 7, and a driver/sometime commuter since i was 18. I thus have plenty of.experience on both sides of this issue.

    The main fact at the heart of this issue: a car striking at pedestrian at even a moderate speed has an excellent chance of severely injuring or killing the pedestrian, while leaving the occupants of the vehicle completely unharmed. Drivers have a responsibility to take more care as they have more of a chance of causing huge harm, and it behooves pedestrians to be extra vigilant and alert – it doesn’t matter who’s at fault, it’s the peds who’re gonna reap the result.

    Design is execrable from the pedestrian perspective. I
    can reliably cross the major 4 lane road near my house with no extra time, as a reasonably fit person. Unbelieveably, there is a large senior/assisted living facility on the same block as this crossing and seniors using canes and walkers regularly can’t make it across this street to the supermarket and drug store located there. Even the odd driver who’s not on their cell phone drives distracted – i can’t tell you how many times i’ve stopped in my tracks, staring at a driver approaching me at 15-20mph who acts surprised to see me and stomps on the brakes. At least most of them look abashed.

    The closest i’ve come to being hit was when an angry-looking man made eye contact with me and *accelerated* while making a left turn. Yes, i was in the clearly marked crosswalk and started walking the second the light turned, at a brisk pace. Fortunately i was able to scramble out of the way. It’s very depressing to see how many callers and commenters just whine about ‘those crazy pedestrians are asking for it’, no matter how many times the facts are pointed out to them.

    We need better design, a huge education blitz, and proper law enforcement and prosecution to change this situation. In the meantime, i’ll continue to
    practice ‘defensive walking’. Thank you again, steph

  • John Tweed

    Why do railroad crossings have barriers? Good… now that we have accepted that we cannot trust a significant number of drivers to behave responsibly, it’s about time for street designers to take that into account, instead of designing to kill. As a driver, I’m frustrated quite often by being unable to see pedestrians because of poorly lit crosswalks.
    As a pedestrian, I’m shocked by the contempt planners have for me. Even when they bother to put in lights on a crosswalk, the signal is ‘GIVE WAY !????’ why not STOP?, When these cross multiple lanes, I often see drivers fly past a vehicle stopping in the other lane.

    At regular intersections why can’t the Right lane lights flash amber (instead of green) when the cross-walk light is active, that’s a simple programming change. It would make drivers aware at least. We should be prioritizing safety.

    Why not sue those responsible for the poor street design if all else fails?

  • Meghan

    Thank you for addressing such an important topic! Pedestrian safety is too often obscured by discussions about potential inconvenience to drivers. We have to remember that streets were not originally designed only for cars and redesign to make pedestrian safety a priority.

  • Brenda

    How about the option of all-way pedestrian crossing at busy intersections–especially downtown. Like 4th/ Harrison. Less gridlock as well. Could be timed for busiest times for each intersection. (my son’s suggestion!)

  • jj

    I had to leave home before listening to the entire program, but there seemed to be a consensus on the panel that any car that strikes a pedestrian is ~automatically~ the at-fault party. I completely reject this notion. There are times vehicles are at fault, and times that pedestrians are responsible for being struck. I agree completely that when drivers are the at-fault parties they need to suffer consequences. That said, when I’m a pedestrian entering a road I ~always~ act like the vulnerable one. I see so many people get the walk signal, fail to look, and march out into the street. This is a recipe for death. Pedestrians are supposed to wait for vehicles to clear an intersection before proceeding, and they often do not. I’m also a bike commuter, and see this behavior all the time. I’m almost through an intersection and peds march on out into the street.

    • No one said that drivers are always at fault. The premise of the show was that drivers are not being prosecuted when they hit pedestrians and that 1/3 of them were determined to be crossing legally. The number is likely higher than 1/3 too. It doesn’t include cases where there are no eyewitnesses other than the driver, who is of course biased. It’s impossible for pedestrians to give their side of the story when they’re dead.

      • jj

        Ok. I intended to go back and re-listen to the show in its entirety, but all I seemed to be hearing was “bad cars, poor peds.” There is an anti-car attitude that seems to be gaining ground in this city, and I don’t support it. The city is going down a path of making it painful to own a car. I walk, ride bikes, ride motorcycles, and drive cars in SF. They all have a place. Also regarding pedestrian safety, a sense of entitlement around roadways when you’re the small fish is going to get you killed. I’m thorough about looking all ways and maintaining an awareness when I cross an intersection. Many peds don’t, and they don’t a their own peril. I would venture to guess that some percentage of dead pedestrians would still be alive they’d un-bury their faces from their mobile devices.

        • Actually, there are a disproportionate number of people killed while walking that are elderly and poor, which is hardly the group most likely to be looking at iPhones.

          The point isn’t who is at fault. People make mistakes on both sides of the windshield. The issue is that the majority of cars are being driven at speeds are faster than what’s safe in an urban environment. That doesn’t give drivers time to react and when collisions occur it results in far greater injuries, including death. If everyone drove the speed limit (25 mph most places) there would be far fewer car collisions.

        • aa aa

          Including the ped kids that we just heard about who are killed? The program also referred to several drivers who hit pedestrians, including small children, while using mobile devices, which is supposedly illegal: and they unbelievably got off with a slap on the wrist. I can’t tell you how many times that I am walking with my kid in crosswalk and the driver does not stop or slow down, leaving us vulnerable to traffic from the other direction. .
          BTW, I would support laws against peds using mobiles in crosswalks.

    • SF_Abe

      “There are … times that pedestrians are responsible for being struck.”

      But who is responsible for thousands of pounds of metal and glass being involved? Responsibility for the collision is one thing, responsibility for the damage caused by the collision is another.

    • Chris OConnell

      A “vehicle” is never at fault. A driver may be, though.

  • Milton

    In San Jose, the distance between intersections is so huge, almost everyone J walks; and the intersections have little or almost no signs and or clear lines on the street. Also, the police over here is not as forgiving to drivers as it was reported. Finally, I really thing pedestrians need to be a bit more defensive.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    One thing I look for walking is all too often missing: turn signals! The right turn signal has long been extinct in CA and daily, I see the left turn signal – even with other cars at an intersection – is missing as well. This happens b/c police don’t enforce and seem to think the legal duty to signal which way you’re going is unnecessary. Turn signals or blinkers tell both pedestrian and other drivers which way someone’s vehicle is going to go. Makes sense, right? That’s why they been installed on cars since the 1930s. Using them helps peds know when it’s safe to cross and they should be enforced as a matter of safety. police, please get with it! And use turn signals on your patrol cars – be the knights of the road setting a good example.

  • Kyle Pennell

    So sad to think of the actual people those dots represent. Good to recognize how dangerous being a pedestrian still is. You can’t live in paranoia but you should be careful.

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