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Letter: Respecting right of way saves pedestrians’ lives

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Note: The statements, views, and opinions contained in this letter to the editor are those of the author and are not endorsed by, nor do they necessarily reflect, the opinions of The Republic.

From: Noel Taylor


“Three time’s a charm.” Wondering what kind — not that I believe in charms — I note the media reports of law enforcement personnel killed in the line of duty. Three deaths, all related by the line of work and duty status of the deceased. Tragic. At the same time, I’m seeing another cluster of three, also tragic. Details follow.

So far in July a bicyclist has been struck and killed by a school bus in Indianapolis, and a pedestrian was hit by a car in Columbus a couple of days ago, though she survives. Last month a bicyclist coming off the People Trails was struck by a car. What these three events had in common was that in each case — assuming that the printed reports are accurate — the person struck had the right of way.

The bicyclist killed in Indianapolis was riding in a designated bicycle lane when struck from behind by a school bus traveling in the same direction. The pedestrian injured at 17th and Central in Columbus was crossing with a green light when struck by traffic turning with that green light onto the street that the pedestrian was crossing. The bicyclist injured at Third and Lindsey in Columbus was in a well-marked pedestrian crosswalk across Lindsey, while traffic on Lindsey had a red light. These events are also tragic.

I have no clue what legal steps are being taken in any of these cases. The underlying issue seems to me to be that of a sort of blame-the-victim process that seems to be a deeply ingrained attitude in our community. The worst example of this comes from reports of the pedestrian’s injury, where witnesses appeared to believe that the car could not have avoided her when she stepped out into the street. Uh, that’s what pedestrians do when they have right of way to cross the street, isn’t it? Under the law, automobiles making a left turn across a pedestrian’s path must yield right of way when pedestrians have it.

There are certain conventions in civilized society that make the society work, and right of way is one of them. Every time a pedestrian crosses a street, he is vulnerable to the behavior of motorists, but convention has it that unless that person is jaywalking, motorists are to respect the pedestrian’s right of way and act prudently even when confronted by a jaywalker.

To their credit, both local government and businesses care about these events. As examples, Dave Dailey, a Columbus-based insurance agent, has written both the mayor and the police department expressing his concern about the incident at Third and Lindsey. Casey Ritz, manager of operations at the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department, acted as soon as he was aware of the incident and quickly conferred with the city’s street department on installation of the warning signs they’ve prepared for that location. Yet while both of these actions are commendable, they’re inconsequential unless attitudes behind the wheel change.

I could get into the mood to lobby for the death penalty for motorists who kill an unprotected road user by ignoring that person’s right of way. I won’t, simply because more laws aren’t the answer. We, the citizens of this city and state, have really good answers to these issues, though, if we’re willing to take the steps they require. Interestingly, learning from the mistakes of others can be a powerful tool. Perhaps we can choose to drive carefully as a start.

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