Vero not immune from nationwide surge in accidents


Vero Beach, much like paradise in so many ways, is not safe from the seemingly unrelenting national crisis we are currently experiencing on our roads and highways.

Traffic data just within the Vero Beach city limits show 2,350 motor vehicle accidents between Jan. 1, 2020, and mid-August 2022. Forty incidents involved pedestrians and in 22 crashes, bicyclists were involved in collisions with motor vehicles, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

Eighty-four percent of the crashes occurred in broad daylight and 97 percent in dry conditions, so poor visibility and wet roads don’t seem to be to blame for the bulk of traffic incidents.

Vero’s reality reflects, albeit on a smaller scale, what’s happening nationwide. On Aug.17, federal transportation officials reported more than 9,500 people were killed in traffic accidents in the first three months of 2022 marking the deadliest start of a year in the country in two decades.

According to the 2022 report, “Dangerous by Design” issued by Smart Growth America, from 2016-2020, Florida had the unwelcome distinction of ranking No. 2 in the country (behind New Mexico) for pedestrians at risk of being struck by vehicles. The report largely blames pedestrian deaths on a car-centric road design.

Cyclists do not fare much better. In a report issued by StreetLight Data, Florida leads the list as having the most cyclist deaths per capita, and is the third most dangerous state for cyclists.

Nearly every day a barrage of headlines broadcasts news of another crash – a collision of vehicles versus vehicles, pedestrians or cyclists. A collision of lives lost; damage done; and for many, lives forever changed.

The overwhelming numbers have the potential to desensitize us to the near daily damage occurring on our streets and highways. Statistics, while staggering, have a way of making these accidents seem impersonal – they are simply numbers and may not involve our neighbors, friends or family members.

However, sadly, behind the data are the names and faces of people who make up our community.

On Aug. 15, Indian River County Commissioner and former Vero Beach mayor Laura Moss was hospitalized after she was hit by a pickup truck while crossing the street when leaving the Chelsea Market on Cardinal Drive, according to police. Moss was knocked to the ground by the impact which left her briefly unconscious.

Moss said last week, “I hope to use my unfortunate personal experience for the benefit of our community by working with county staff, local law enforcement agencies, and colleagues at the Metropolitan Planning Organization to improve the safety of our streets for all road users.”

Further, Moss notes one possibility might be to use traffic data, including statistics from particularly dangerous intersections such as Aviation Boulevard and U.S. 1, to help develop public service campaigns to inform the public of the hazards of distracted driving, which is one of the main reasons for such crashes.

Vero Beach Police spokesman, Master Officer Darrell Rivers, said the motorist who struck Moss was cited for careless driving, but is not expected to face criminal charges.

Moss was not seriously injured, but the outcome of other local crashes has been tragic. In May 2021, 63-year-old John’s Island resident, Carl Cutler was killed while riding his bicycle on A1A near Wildlife Way southeast of Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Shortly thereafter, 57-year-old South barrier island resident Michael Gianfrancesco and his dog, Molly, were struck and killed by a vehicle while walking on the east grass shoulder near their home in the Dunes community.

Gianfrancesco and Molly were declared dead at the scene after the driver lost control of his vehicle, which had been traveling at a high speed. Fatalities also occur as a result of vehicle against vehicle crashes. On Aug. 17, a fatal crash occurred at the intersection of 45th street and U.S. 1 in Vero Beach when a van collided with a sedan.

The reasons for these crashes are numerous and include high speed; poor road design; distracted driving; driving under the influence; larger vehicles including SUVs, which can cause more bodily harm; and the COVID-19 pandemic.

When referencing the report “Dangerous by Design,” Beth Osborne, vice president of transportation and thriving communities at Smart Growth America notes, “In fact, the obsession with keeping traffic moving and avoiding delay at all costs in hopes of saving drivers mere seconds creates the very dangers highlighted in this report.

“This is why crosswalks are missing or too far apart, why lanes are too wide, why intersections are difficult to cross on foot, and why money can always be found to widen a road, even when adding sidewalks is deemed ‘too expensive.’”

Central Beach resident David Hunter, vice president of Bike Walk Indian River County, stresses it takes about 10 years from initial planning to complete a road, and that is the time to plan wider bike lanes.

“It is very difficult and costly to install proper bike lanes after a road has been built,” according to Hunter.

To help improve road safety on the barrier island, the Florida Department of Transportation will be making improvements from south of Jasmine Lane to north of Beachland Boulevard as well as intersection improvements at different locations on Highway A1A and on the mainland along U.S. 1.

Upgrades will include repaving and restriping the existing asphalt; widening the roadway to allow for a seven-foot buffered bicycle lane; and constructing a six-foot sidewalk on the east or northbound side.

In addition to physical hazards and poorly designed roads, distracted driving is to blame for the uptick in serious pedestrian and cyclist crashes. According to a study published by the AAA Foundation, on-board technology like GPS navigation, entertainment features and integrated Bluetooth mobile phone and text notifications are increasingly causing more distracted driving.

Bob Auwaerter, Indian River Shores Town Councilman, notes that “the way cars are built these days allow drivers to become easily distracted by their dashboard.”

While large vehicles protect the motorists, they are more likely to kill a pedestrian in a collision than a sedan or compact car. A key feature of an SUV is that it sits higher off the ground, and thus often hits a pedestrian’s rib cage and vital organs.

The Covid-19 pandemic also changed driving patterns. With fewer cars on the road, people tend to drive faster and possibly more recklessly. As speed increases, so does the degree of damage and the severity of injuries.

A plethora of reasons can be given as causes for the increase in traffic crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists.

Clearly, a collective effort by all stakeholders is needed: Motorists need to better understand how to share the road with pedestrians and cyclists. Pedestrians and cyclists need to be more aware of motorists.

Florida has adopted a statewide plan, “Florida’s 2021-2025 Strategic Highway Safety Plan,” which includes the introduction of the Safe System Approach to address safety issues in an integrated way. Florida’s safety vision aims to eliminate all transportation-related fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads.

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