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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 16, 2005

Most pedestrian deaths occur outside the lines

 •  Chart (opens in a new window): Pedestrian fatalities in Hawai'i 2002-2003

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

It was 5:50 in the morning, still dark.

Miriama Lelauti
Not far from her home, Miriama Lelauti was trying to cross Kalihi Street, already busy on that November 2003 day with fast-moving cars headed for rush-hour traffic on nearby Nimitz Highway and Dillingham Boulevard.

Although there were crosswalks just several hundred feet in each direction, Lelauti suffered from medical problems that made it difficult for her to walk too far or too quickly.

Instead, as she went to buy a cup of coffee for a longtime companion, Lelauti stepped into the middle of the road and was struck by a van driven by a 24-year-old man attempting to pass another car.

Safety tips

• Cross at a crosswalk or at the corner.

• Look for oncoming vehicles before leaving the sidewalk.

• Establish eye contact with drivers and continue looking left-right-left while crossing.

• Remember that oncoming vehicles may approach quicker than anticipated.

• Wear bright or light-colored clothing and use reflective materials when it's dark.

Source: Walk Wise Hawai'i Source: State Transportation Department

She died about an hour later.

While state officials say they'll seek a new law this year to protect pedestrians in intersections, deaths like Lelauti's — those that occur outside the white lines — are far more common in Hawai'i.

Only 19 percent of the 57 pedestrians killed in Hawai'i in a recent two-year span were in a crosswalk at the time of the accident, according to an Advertiser review of traffic records compiled by the federal government.

Far more — more than two-thirds — of the fatal accidents happened when the pedestrian was walking on or near a roadway outside a crosswalk or where none was available.

The data mirror a new national report that shows pedestrian accidents happening at alarming rates, especially in areas "where wide, high-speed arterial streets offer few sidewalks or crosswalks."

In 2003, Hawai'i ranked No. 5 in the nation in per capita pedestrian deaths and No. 1 in terms of the percentage of all fatal accidents that involved pedestrians, according to the report.

Most of the deaths occurred along major roadways such as Farrington and Kamehameha highways, and major collector roads, like Kalihi Street, which feed into main thoroughfares.

Can't always make it

Pedestrians cross the street legally at Maunakea and Hotel streets in Chinatown. Officials say improved education, engineering and enforcement are needed to reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

In many cases the accidents occurred when pedestrians, like Lelauti, tried to cross a busy road or walked on a shoulder after dark.

"Sometimes, they think they're still in high school and can make it when they can't," said Hono-lulu Police Officer Mel Andres, who works with senior citizens to promote traffic safety.

Traffic safety experts last week applauded Gov. Linda Lingle's proposal to give more protection to pedestrians who enter a crosswalk, but said other efforts are needed, too.

In addition to tougher laws, education, engineering and enforcement all need to be improved to reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities, officials said.

Pedestrian fatalities

2000 — 31

2001 — 30

2002 — 33

2003 — 23

2004 — 30

* Totals are slightly different from federal figures in story because of classification differences

Source: State Transportation Department

"All the attitudes are different these days," Andres said. "There are a lot more cars, drivers and distractions. It's not like people don't know what the safety tips are, but they needed to be reminded of them every day."

Under a bill Lingle plans to have introduced at the Legislature this week, cars would have to come to a complete stop when a pedestrian enters a crosswalk on an undivided street. Under cur-

rent laws, drivers have to stop only when a pedestrian is on the same side of the street as the car.

Even Lingle's measure wouldn't have saved the larger number of pedestrians hit outside the lines, however.

"Yes, it would have helped if she was in a crosswalk, but police still need to do more to get these drivers," said Lelauti's niece, Cilia Sakaria, who said the family is still devastated by the loss and angry over how slowly police have moved to take action against the driver.

"Just because someone is in the middle of the road, it doesn't mean you get to bang them like my auntie. If you see someone walking in the street, it's just common sense that you should stop," she said.

Many drivers don't stop, though, whether the pedestrian is in a crosswalk or not.

The Advertiser review of fatal pedestrian accidents in the two-year period showed that only six of 57 accidents happened in an intersection crosswalk. Five more occurred in mid-block crosswalks.

The remaining deaths occurred in other situations:

• Twenty on freeways and major roadways without crosswalks.

• Nine at intersections that did not have marked crosswalks.

• Six on highway road shoulders.

• Six on minor roads where crosswalks were not available.

In the other cases, the circumstances were not known or not clearly reported.

Both parties at fault

Jaywalkers make their way across Hotel Street, near Maunakea, as an Ala Moana-bound bus approaches.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

The information is contained in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, a huge federal database that contains hundreds of pieces of information about each fatal accident in the nation for the past 13 years. The federal figures on pedestrian accidents differ slightly from state totals because of classification differences.

Taken together, the accident reports show a pattern of behavior that often leaves both the pedestrian and driver at fault. In the most typical cases, the pedestrian, often elderly, tries to walk along a busy roadway or cross it at night or twilight only to encounter a driver, sometimes drunk or speeding, who does not have enough time to react.

The pedestrian always ends up on the losing end of the encounter. Examples from the past few years are plentiful:

• An 82-year-old man rushing to catch a bus at 7:15 a.m. runs across North King Street and is hit by a Chevy Blazer, driven by a man with five outstanding traffic warrants.

• A 60-year-old woman, wearing dark clothes and outside the crosswalk on Farrington Highway in Makaha at 8:45 p.m., is struck and killed. The driver is later arrested on charges of felony hit-and-run.

• A 57-year-old man walking just outside a crosswalk on a rainy night in Hilo, Hawai'i, is hit by a driver who police said appeared to be drinking and speeding.

• A 79-year-old man walking across Kalaniana'ole Highway about 7 a.m. in Waimanalo dies from injuries he suffered after being hit by a truck. Police are still seeking the driver.

Walking, it turns out, is the most deadly form of transportation in the country, according to the Surface Transportation Policy Project, an organization in Washington, D.C.

Nationally, the fatality rate per 100 million miles traveled in 2001 was .75 for public transit riders, 1.3 for drivers and passengers, and an astonishing 20.1 for pedestrians.

"The most dangerous places to walk are metropolitan areas marked by new, low-density developments, where wide, high-speed arterial streets offer few sidewalks or crosswalks," according to the group's Mean Streets report issued in December.

The group blames states for not spending enough money on pedestrian-safe streets. Hawai'i's spending was about average, with .9 percent of all its federal transportation money being used for pedestrian or bicycle projects, the report said.

New efforts planned

This pedestrian crossed the street in a crosswalk, but when the "Don't Walk" signal was lit.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Transportation Department spokesman Scott Ishikawa said the state plans several new pedestrian-safety efforts this year.

One of the biggest ones will be expanding Honolulu's Walk-Wise Kupuna program to other islands. In the past year, more than 6,000 people on O'ahu, mostly seniors, have heard traffic safety presentations through the program.

"This year we're going statewide and expanding it beyond seniors," Ishikawa said. The program, now called Walk-Wise Hawai'i, also will air about $100,000 in television public-service announcements promoting pedestrian safety, Ishikawa said.

"We tell seniors to always use the crosswalks," Andres said. "But sometimes the nearest one is miles away. The law says you can cross in the middle of the street if there isn't a crosswalk within 150 feet, but even then you always have to remember the top safety rule — make sure the driver sees you before you enter a lane."

Andres said citizens can ask either state or city officials to investigate dangerous crossing situations and request new crosswalks or signals, but the process is a long and costly one.

But some experts say crosswalks can give pedestrians a misleading sense of security.

"Sometimes, people figure they've got the right of way so they just go ahead and cross," Andres said. "Oftentimes they're right, but it doesn't always mean you're safe just because you're in a crosswalk. We tell them you can still end up being dead right."

Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.