Lowering number of pedestrian fatalities should involve collaborative measures

San Francisco had a dismal year when it came to pedestrian safety in 2013 — the number of walkers killed surged to a level that had not been seen since 2007. There are plans on the table for increased police enforcement in the coming years and for a larger pedestrian safety strategy at the citywide level. But there should first be a shift in thinking about vehicle-vs.-pedestrian collisions away from hyperbole and insinuations; instead, we should focus on data and empirical evidence.

A quick look back at 2013 shows why the hard numbers can trump what some people hold to be hard truths — typically that drivers or pedestrians alone are to blame for the incidents.

The drivers of vehicles were found to be primarily at fault in two-thirds of the pedestrian fatalities last year. In nine of the deaths, failure of the driver to properly yield to a pedestrian at a crosswalk was cited as a primary cause.

While drivers were found to be the main culprits in the collisions, pedestrians should not be let off the hook, either. People walking in places where drivers may not be expecting them — such as jaywalking in the middle of busy roadways — also proved deadly three times last year.

With so many San Franciscans and people who come to The City to work traversing the streets as pedestrians, it is in nearly everyone’s interest to make the streets safe for pedestrians.

It should be clear by now that finger-pointing and singular solutions will not end the epidemic of deadly pedestrian collisions.

Police Cmdr. Mikail Ali pointed out in a meeting about pedestrian safety the importance of small things in making San Francisco safer, down to the words used to describe a collision.

Using “vehicle collisions” rather than “accidents,” he said, helps create the mindset “that these occurrences aren’t acts of God.”

“There’s an element of negligence on the part of one party or the other and so we can’t continue to look at them as something beyond our control,” Ali said.

How that negligence is determined — for fatalities involving pedestrians and bicyclists — is the subject of a hearing Thursday at City Hall, and it is likely to be a heated discussion. But placing blame and placing blame about placing blame without data to back it up will do nothing to solve the problem of people dying on our streets.

Everyone involved in pedestrian fatalities — from the police officers investigating them, to the politicians involved in crafting policy — should remember these are real people, not mere statistics.

Reducing fatalities will involve education for drivers and pedestrians, increased enforcement, infrastructure upgrades, and other policy and policing changes.

The where, when and how of these efforts should be driven by data that is collected and analyzed. It is time to truly get to the root of the problem and save lives in San Francisco.

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