Written by Jackie Winchester
Lee County roads were deadly this year, especially for pedestrians. Twenty-three pedestrians have died on Lee roads compared to 13 in 2012. There have been 82 fatalities, surpassing the 64 last year.Twenty-three pedestrians have died on Lee roads compared to 13 in 2012. There have been 82 fatalities, surpassing the 64 last year. The numbers are still down from a decade ago when 100 people were dying in crashes annually.
In Collier County, 33 people died as a result of traffic crashes, four more than in 2012.
Jay Anderson, executive director of Stay Alive, Just Drive, said it’s puzzling how many pedestrians have stepped into the path of oncoming vehicles, and the spike is a concern.
“People in general are not very good at judging speed or distance, and this becomes a major problem,” Anderson said.
Cape Coral had 18 traffic deaths, up from 10 last year. According to Cape police Sgt. Dana Coston, three of those were pedestrians and another three were bicyclists. Seven of the deaths were attributed to a violation of right-of-way and six were drug- or alcohol-related.
As a result, the Cape Police Department is planning a number of initiatives in 2014, hoping to curb the number of fatal crashes in Southwest Florida’s largest city.
Coston said police will conduct red-light operations biweekly and traffic enforcement operations in residential areas identified by civilians.
They’ll also focus on pedestrian and bicyclist safety, particularly at schools. There were a number of crashes this year involving students going to or from school.
In Collier County, a breakdown of pedestrian deaths was not available. Michelle Batten, spokeswoman for the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, referred questions to the Florida Highway Patrol, which investigates all traffic fatalities in Collier. An effort to get a comment from Collier Sheriff’s traffic division was unsuccessful Monday.
Dan Moser with BikeWalkLee, an organization that works with local officials to make roads safer for pedestrians and bicyclists, said it boils down to individual responsibility.
“Apparently, for whatever reasons, too many of us don’t buy into that message, especially if it somehow puts us out,” he said.
Moser said he believes drivers aren’t held as accountable as they should be.
“Law enforcement officials and the courts tend to be much more empathetic toward motorists when it comes to crashes involving drivers and non-motorists,” unless a DUI or other egregious act took place, Moser said.
Enforcement of traffic laws would go a long way in preventing tragedy, he said. “This tendency to exonerate drivers whenever the non-motorist had any degree of fault … perpetuates the current mindset we as motorists have in terms of ignoring Florida laws that clearly define the high level of responsibility we have when behind the wheel.”
With Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass’ law enforcement background, Moser hopes to see some change, as Pendergrass has “taken the lead to address our pathetic roadway safety record,” he said.
One change that drivers saw this year was the enactment of a law banning texting while driving. But drivers can’t be pulled over if seen texting. It’s considered a secondary offense, meaning a driver must first be pulled over for another reason, such as careless driving or speeding, before the driver can be cited for texting while driving.
Anderson said law enforcement officers have discovered ways to apply the law, but The News-Press reported in November that after the law had been in effect for a month, only five citations had been given. Numbers through Sunday were unavailable.
Anderson said 2014 can be less deadly if people would just pay attention.
“We need to remind ourselves that no fatality is acceptable,” Anderson said. “Drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists must be cognitive of their surroundings.”
Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Greg Bueno said the FHP has focused on safety belt enforcement, driver impairment, speeding and distracted driving.
Like Anderson, Bueno emphasizes the need for drivers to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel, and for pedestrians and bicyclists to pay attention.
“Leave early, don’t rush, abide by all traffic laws so that everyone can safely arrive at their destination,” he said.