Stronger law for pedestrians will complement DOT projects
WHEN WE were children, our parents and teachers constantly reminded us to look both ways before crossing the street.
That common-sense bit of advice has never been more critical than on the streets of Hawaii today.
This year, our state might garner the unwelcome distinction of having one of the highest pedestrian fatality rates per capita in the nation. Thirty-two of our fellow residents have been killed so far this year while crossing the street, already exceeding last year's state total. Eleven were in marked crosswalks, where they thought they were safe.
We need to remember that those 32 individuals were our grandmothers and fathers, our sons and daughters, our sisters and uncles, our friends and coworkers.
This past legislative session, our administration worked with the chairmen of the Senate and House Transportation Committees, Sen. Lorraine Inouye and Rep. Joe Souki, to pass a law that gives the right of way to pedestrians crossing the street over drivers. Under the new law, drivers must yield when pedestrians are on the same half of the roadway or are approaching and in danger of being hit. It was a bipartisan effort that also involved the support of law enforcement and the community.
THE NEW law is a step in the right direction, but clearly much more needs to be done to tighten up the law and educate motorists and pedestrians about the rules of the road.
Our administration is working on legislation that will further strengthen the pedestrian's right of way within a crosswalk and simplify the law so there is no question that motorists must stop for pedestrians.
Granted, laws can only do so much. That is why my administration, under the leadership of the state Department of Transportation, already has implemented several projects to help improve pedestrian safety. They include the "Walk Wise Hawaii" educational program in partnership with the Honolulu Police Department, which reminds pedestrians and drivers about pedestrian safety, particularly among our youngest and oldest walkers. Starting next year, the DOT will launch the "Safe Routes to School" program, which will look at implementing additional traffic safety features near elementary and middle schools. Public safety announcements will be aired on TV and radio this busy holiday season.
The state also is adding multi-use paths for pedestrians and bicyclists as part of the widening of Haleakala and Mokulele Highways on Maui, Queen Kaahumanu Highway in Kona and Fort Weaver Road in Ewa. Crosswalks along Farrington Highway on the Waianae Coast are being restriped for better visibility. Plans also are under way to extend a bike path through lower Waipahu to connect the city's Pearl Harbor Historic Trail with the Ewa region.
THE RESPONSIBILITY to improve safety on our streets lies with all of us. Pedestrians need to use caution when crossing, while motorists need to be alert and stop for pedestrians.
For pedestrians, remember the simple lesson our parents taught us -- look both ways before crossing. Cross the street at corners or in marked crosswalks, cross with the traffic or pedestrian signal, establish eye contact with drivers of oncoming cars, and be aware that vehicles might approach faster than anticipated. Remember, if you are caught jaywalking you will be fined $70.
For drivers, we cannot overstate the importance of staying focused and alert, obeying all traffic laws and speed limits, and never driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Particular caution should be exercised at dawn and dusk, when many fatalities occur. And under the current law, if you don't yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk, you will be fined $97.
This is not a partisan issue. It is common sense, and we should all join in the effort to ensure none of us feel like unprotected targets when we are crossing the street.
Linda Lingle is governor of Hawaii.