This week, I witnessed three people nearly get run down by cars in two separate incidents. In both instances, the pedestrians walked blindly and boldly into intersections. I don't know whether to blame ignorance, arrogance, or stupidity.
I am actually a fan of the new law which requires motorists to stop, not yield, to pedestrians in marked crosswalks. I appreciate its purpose and believe that it has, for the most part, made drivers more aware of pedestrians.
It appears, however, that there is some serious confusion (or ignorance) on the part of both drivers and pedestrians as to what the law requires. It also appears that the new law has given some pedestrians a sense of entitlement to the road; to cross wherever and whenever they please with the assumption that the oncoming traffic will abruptly stop to allow them to do so.
Earlier this week, I was traveling on a fairly well-traveled two-lane road when I saw a silver-haired pedestrian walking with tiny steps toward a crosswalk. I and others were fairly close to the crosswalk, although, thankfully for this pedestrian, not too close that we were unable to stop. We slammed on our brakes and avoided hitting her. What struck me, though, was how this lady did not hesitate when entering the crosswalk, and never looked up to make sure that the traffic was able to, and intending to, stop for her.
The next day I was traveling on Rt. 322 in West Atlantic City at the widest section of the road where there are four lanes and a center turning lane. Traffic was busy and motorists were traveling at a decent rate of speed. About 50 feet in front of me, I saw a couple make their way into the road, in a strolling stride as if they were walking on the boardwalk, each holding out a hand to oncoming traffic to signal, "You must stop for us." They were not in an intersection, marked or otherwise. They were nearly hit by me and a car in the lane next to me. As I proceeded east, I looked with dismay into my rearview mirror to see that they did the same to the heavy westbound traffic nearly causing a pile up. In the end, one of the reckless crossers had to leap out of the way in order to avoid getting hit from a car that didn't have enough time to react to his presence in the road. Admittedly, I was nearly certain I was going to see bodies flying through the air when I looked in my rearview mirror.
I mentioned to friends these encounters and heard countless stories of similar happenstances. They too expressed dismay over what seems to be an epidemic of bad judgment and lack of common sense. Do pedestrians care more about their right to cross the road than they do about their existence? Do they not realize that their arrogance can cost them their lives?
The new law requires motorists to stop for pedestrians in marked crosswalks that are not controlled by traffic signals. In traffic-controlled intersections, pedestrians are required to follow the traffic signals. In unmarked crosswalks, motorists are required to yield to pedestrians.
What seems to be lost on many pedestrians is the law's requirement that "no pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield." And if the pedestrian is not in an intersection, vehicles have the right-of-way.
Meanwhile, many motorists continue to ignore the pedestrian law, cruising by pedestrians who smartly wait for the motorists to stop and make eye contact or wave them through before attempting to cross. I petitioned my local city council for a crosswalk at the end of our street so that we may have a safer, easier time crossing the street to the park on the other side. We got that crosswalk, and it has helped, but without fail, many cars will pass before those following the law stop to allow us to cross. In fact, one time I was in my car stopped waiting for my son to cross with his bike when a car behind me tried to pass. Thankfully I was able to stop him before he ran him down.
I don't think the state has done enough to make the new rules of the road clearer to travelers. I also don't think that citizens in general have taken the time to fully understand what the law requires of them. If everyone follows the rules as they are laid out, the law can work. The bottom line is motorists and pedestrians must commit to understanding their obligations, use good judgment, and share the roads.