crosswalk photo

Kristie Staley Dawson and her young sons, DJ and Case, wait at a lighted crosswalk as multiple cars drive through without stopping.

JEFFERSONVILLE — Ignorance is not always bliss; it can be deadly. Many motorists are ignorant of the rules regarding pedestrian crosswalks and bicycle safety on our Southern Indiana roads, or they may not be paying attention.

If you have ever been a pedestrian, driven a vehicle, or ridden a bicycle on the street, there is information you should know.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “At some point in the day, everyone is a pedestrian, and unfortunately pedestrian fatalities remain high. There was a more than 3% increase in the number of pedestrians killed in traffic crashes in 2018, totaling 6,283 deaths — the most deaths since 1990.” The data for 2019-2020 has not been released; however, the number of accidents will likely be higher with the virus fear pushing people outdoors.

In Jeffersonville, Mayor Mike Moore has prioritized making the city more walkable, through the construction of 14 miles of sidewalks and multiple crosswalks with flash beacons, making our area safer for pedestrians and motorists. Drivers should look for these crosswalks and then pay attention when driving.

On Utica Pike there are a couple of crosswalks with flashing beacons on either side. When the button is pushed, lights begin to flash, alerting drivers to stop. Drivers often blow through the crosswalks, while lights are flashing and pedestrians stand waiting to cross, making no effort to stop.

Faye Stewart Jones uses these crosswalks. She said, “We are disappointed in the way people are responding to the crosswalks. When I push the button for the lights, I can never be sure the oncoming traffic will even notice us, so we watch the cars drive by and wait until a driver completely stops before crossing. Even then, we rush across in case another car appears from the other direction that doesn’t stop.”

When drivers disregard the flashing lights at the crosswalk, oftentimes they are seen holding and talking on cell phones. According to Indiana Code §9-21-8-59, a person may not use a telecommunications device to type or read electronic mail messages while operating a moving motor vehicle, unless the device is used in conjunction with hands-free or voice operated technology, or unless the motorist is using the device to call 911 to report a bona fide emergency.

Indiana law is weaker than most states regarding pedestrian rights, but all states stress pedestrians must make it obvious they wish to cross, and crosswalks must be clearly marked. According to Indiana law (IC 9-21-8-36), a pedestrian has the right-of-way at a crosswalk only if he/she is already in the crosswalk, with most extending safely into the sidewalk area. Drivers are not required to slow down or stop for someone waiting farther back on the curb.

Pedestrians who walk or run on streets without sidewalks can be in the bike lanes or shoulders, so long as they remain as far to the side as possible. If they are on roads without bike lanes or shoulders, they should travel in the opposing lane to see oncoming traffic rather than on the right side of the street.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) study reveals that in 2016, 5,987 pedestrians were killed on U.S. roads — an average of 16 per day (16% of the total traffic deaths).

Bicyclists face hazards, too

Indiana is ranked 24th as a bicycle friendly state. Some drivers, not fond of sharing the road with cyclists, are especially aggravated when cyclists block the lane when riding several across. This information should clear up some misconceptions.

The primary reason cyclists ride side by side is for safety. A group of cyclists riding two abreast will be easier to see for drivers, making it less likely that they will be hit from behind, but the main reason is to make sure that drivers give them enough room when passing.

Derek Fetko, co-owner of Louisville bicycle shop On Your Left Cycles, explains, “Even if there is one cyclist, they are encouraged to take up the lane, otherwise it could be unsafe if the driver tries to squeeze down the lane, possibly pushing the cyclist off the road. Drivers should pass when it is safe to do so; a cyclist might hold you up 10 to 20 seconds at most.” Fetko also recommends all new cyclists take a safety class before heading out to busy roads, adding, “Cyclists also need to pay attention to all the rules of the road and to stop at all red lights and stop signs.”

Cyclists are considered drivers of vehicles and therefore have the same rights to the road as motorists. Cyclists do not belong on the sidewalk, as it would be dangerous to both the pedestrians and the cyclist, and it may be illegal. Indiana does not require that cyclists use any lane or path other than a normal vehicular traffic lane.

Southern Indiana is making efforts to be more “bike friendly.” According to Jeffersonville City Engineer Andy Crouch, “The newly renovated Spring Street in Claysburg, Court Avenue going west, the newly renovated section of Veterans Parkway, most of Eighth Street, Thompson Lane, and a few blocks of 12th Street all have designated bike paths, and the nearly completed Holman’s Lane will also have a designated path.”

Indiana has no helmet law for bicycling unless otherwise provided by a municipal regulation; however, the state encourages the use of helmets, especially for children. (See information box for laws for both drivers and cyclists.)

When driving, pay attention, stop at crosswalks when someone is waiting, respect that cyclists have the same rights on the road as drivers, but most of all, be patient and share the road; lives depend on it.

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