Has anyone else noticed that far too many folks are getting hit by cars around here lately?
As I embark on this column, four of our neighbors – two pedestrians, two bicyclists – have been struck by vehicles in the past few weeks. And those are the ones we know of, the incidents that were reported to police.
Two were hit-and-run cases. One victim was riding a bike along Old Dixie Highway on Dec. 22, the other was walking alongside 20th Avenue Southwest on Jan. 1. Both were killed.
Three of the four recent vehicle-versus-pedestrian/bicyclist crashes, including both hit-and-run incidents, were at night. In at least one of the four, the driver wasn’t at fault – not legally, anyway.
Indian River County Sheriff’s detectives also are investigating the death of Janai Cooper, the Glendale Elementary School assistant principal who was killed in a Dec. 23 incident in which her boyfriend ran over her in the driveway in front of the couple’s Roseland Road home.
And if you go back a few months, there have been other such accidents, including an 85-year-old man who was hit by a small pickup truck and killed as he rolled across Oslo Road in his motorized wheelchair last summer.
“We have had a lot of them lately,” Indian River County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Eric Flowers said. “As for why, I don’t know if I can give you an answer. I don’t know of any commonality between them.”
To be sure, there might not be any one thing that connects these crashes, other than the fact that somebody didn’t do enough to prevent them. This recent rash of people getting hit by cars and trucks might be nothing more than mere coincidence.
Or maybe it’s that start of a dangerous trend.
Anyone who spends any time at all on our roads knows there are more than few bad drivers making a mess of things, especially at this time of year, when the annual influx of winter residents and seasonal visitors adds to our growing traffic woes.
Worse, though, is the rapidly increasing number of people who drive bad.
And, yes, there’s a difference.
Bad drivers don’t want to be bad drivers. They’re trying to obey the rules of the road, making every effort to keep up with the flow of traffic, signal before turning and drive both defensively and with courtesy. They’re doing the best they can.
For a variety of reasons, though – age, youth, inexperience, nerves, lack of proper driver’s education – they’re not very good behind the wheel. They’re just good enough to get a license and get around town, often frustrating their fellow drivers but usually making it home without wrecking cars or hurting anyone.
They’re part of the problem, but only a small part.
The real problems are created by people who drive bad, the otherwise-capable drivers who’ve deluded themselves into believing they’re so adept behind the wheel that they can use their travel time to multi-task and not pay much attention to what’s happening in front of them.
They’re dialing phone numbers and answering calls, changing radio stations and glancing at GPS screens, checking emails and texting – all while they’re supposed to be focusing on the road.
It’s called distracted driving, and it might be even more dangerous than drunk driving.
“It’s a huge problem,” Flowers said. “A lot of crashes happen that could be avoided, and it’s getting to be a national epidemic.”
Now, let’s throw pedestrians and bicyclists – some of them aren’t paying attention, either – into the mix. Then add too many streets without sidewalks, bike lanes, sufficient shoulders or proper lighting.
You still wondering why we keep reading about folks here getting hit by cars?
“It’s not just the drivers,” Vero Beach Police Capt. Kevin Martin said. “Pedestrians and bicyclists also need to be aware of what they’re doing. If you’re a pedestrian and there are sidewalks, use them. The same goes for crosswalks.
“Likewise, if you’re on a bicycle and there are bike lanes, use them,” he continued. “Bicycles are considered vehicles and are required to follow the same traffic laws as drivers. That’s something we addressed at our sergeants meeting – that if our officers see violations, either by bicyclists or pedestrians, they need to take some kind of enforcement action.
“The bottom line is: You always have to watch out for yourself,” he added. “We teach defensive driving, but you should also think defensively when you’re out walking or on a bike.”
As local bicycle enthusiasts will tell you, the county doesn’t have enough designated bike lanes, which often forces cyclists to ride on the shoulders. That can be dangerous. But most serious cyclists know the rules of the road and abide by them.
It’s usually the occasional, recreational bike rider and those who pedal their way around town because it’s their only mode of transportation who put themselves at greatest risk. Many of them, probably because they don’t know any better, travel against the flow of traffic.
I’ve seen it. Just last week, I passed a middle-aged man pedaling southbound in the narrow shoulder of the northbound lane of U.S. 1. It was during lunch hour. Traffic was heavy. He was wearing a white T-shirt, dark pants and sneakers, attire that blended in with the roadside background.
He appeared to have no idea he was doing anything wrong, which was alarming.
Also alarming were these hit-and-run incidents. Did you know the number of hit-and-run crashes in Florida jumped from 72,887 in 2012 to 84,252 in 2014 to a whopping 91,994 in 2015? Those statistics, provided by the Florida Highway Patrol, include crashes between vehicles, not just pedestrians and cyclists hit by cars.
Still, they’re cause for concern.
As are these: In our county, the number of hit-and-run crashes soared from 230 in 2014 to 433 in 2015. That was the largest increase, percentage-wise, in any county in the Southeast Florida region, which runs from Indian River to Monroe.
“The numbers are steadily increasing throughout the state,” FHP spokesman Sgt. Mark Wysocky said. “I don’t think there’s one specific reason for it. Some of the hit-and-run drivers are impaired. Some have no driver’s license or insurance. Some are wanted for crimes. Some are in the country illegally.”
Hit-and-run cases can be difficult to solve, especially when they occur late at night, on poorly lit roads, with no witnesses to the crash. But if you do happen to see one, Wysocky urges you to get as much information about the departing vehicle as you can.