Latest pedestrian deaths show need for drivers and walkers to share responsibility

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. The 24 year-old pregnant woman and toddler killed in Lebanon and
the 56 year-old man killed at Sunshine and Farm Rd. 156 near Springfield are just the latest examples of the inherit dangers between cars and pedestrians where the attentiveness of both parties is critical.

Sam Carpenter, the public information and education officer with the Missouri Highway Patrol says it's important that both those behind-the-wheel and those on-foot need put their cellphones down and do away with any other distractions, concentrating on the task at hand.

For drivers?

"You need both hands on the steering wheel, eyes looking forward scanning for hazards," said Carpenter said.

And if you're on-foot you do not have the right-of-way whenever you choose to cross the road.

"Any pedestrian who is in the roadway or crossing the roadway not at an assigned crosswalk has the responsibility to yield to every vehicle on the road," Carpenter explained. "Also you have to understand that if there's a sidewalk you have to use it. That's a law."

"We find that most pedestrian fatalities in Springfield involve someone crossing a major roadway in the dark hours wearing dark clothing," added Mandy Buettgen-Quinn, a Springfield safety engineer in traffic operations.

Since 2017 the city of Springfield has run a campaign known as "Springfield Yields" to urge drivers to stop for pedestrians at marked crosswalks. That too is a state law but the latest research shows only 35 percent (one-in-three) cars will wait for walkers. At least that's an improvement from the start of the program when only 25 percent (one-in-four cars) followed the law.

"It's a national epidemic," Buettgen-Quill said. "Overall pedestrian fatalities have gone up even though all other fatality-type car accidents have gone down."

But spend a few minutes in downtown Springfield just across from the justice building and sheriff's office and you'll notice more people are not paying attention to the marked crosswalks than are doing the right thing.

There are two marked crosswalks with posted signs that say, "State law yield to pedestrians within crosswalk" in the middle of the lanes.

Yet a steady stream of cars zooms through without stopping while pedestrians are waiting to cross.

But most of the pedestrians are not even using the crosswalks, jaywalking at different points on the street that are not far from the marked crossing area.

One possible reason for all the jaywalkers?

"It's really hard for us to tell pedestrians to go to the crosswalk if the drivers aren't stopping," Buettgen said. "And that's why our main focus with this program is to get drivers to stop at these crosswalks."

Both Buettgen and Carpenter also pointed out that with the sun setting earlier, pedestrians should be just like bicyclists and have lights and/or reflectors on in order to be seen.

Another recommendation for those on-foot is similar to advise for those on a bike.

Travel AGAINST the traffic flow and not with it.

"If you're in an unmarked area where there's no sidewalk the recommendation is that you walk on the left side of the roadway where the traffic is going in the opposite direction. That provides the most visibility and the most sight distance for both the driver and the pedestrian to be able to see traffic coming and be able to act accordingly."

Buettgen also points out that wherever you're crossing, whether it's a marked or unmarked zone, "Look at the drivers and make eye contact with them. You will find that more drivers will stop for you."

Buettgen also said that when it comes to who's at fault in car-pedestrian accidents, it runs about 50-50 in most years.

But when it comes to ends up worse off in such an accident, the pedestrian always pays the bigger price.