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Pedestrian Fatality Underscores High Accident Rates

This past Friday, a horrific pedestrian accident near the San Rafael Transit Center took the life of one and seriously injured another. According to the Marin IJ, Olga Rodriguez of Novato and another unidentified male were crossing the street near the Marin County bus station around noon when a dump truck reportedly hit them both in the middle of the street. Ms. Rodriguez was pronounced dead at the scene, and the other victim was rushed off to the hospital with critical injuries.

It is still unclear whether there were any significant contributing factors to the accident such as drugs or alcohol (the unnamed driver is submitting to testing, but authorities don't think he was intoxicated). But regardless of whether drugs or alcohol played a role here, I cannot understand how it is that a driver does not see these people in a crosswalk? This was a terrible tragedy that certainly did not need to happen and was avoidable.

The tragic death of Ms. Rodriguez adds to the high toll of pedestrian deaths around the Bay Area in recent years, and many of them have involved large vehicles such as dump trucks or plumbing vans, as in this December incident. It's no secret that big trucks and vans have larger blind spots and overall lower visibility levels than many smaller cars, but many of them are professional drivers who can do a great deal of damage by being inattentive for just a very short time. It is likely that the driver of this vehicle and many other industrial vehicles are in the course and scope of their employment while driving. It is literally their job to drive, drive attentively, and stop for pedestrians when they're crossing the street. This will probably implicate whatever business it was that this driver was driving for.

Statistics for pedestrian accidents have an unfortunate time lag, so it is impossible to know just yet how the pedestrian accident rate for 2013 compares to that of prior years. We do, however, have some 2012 information that serves to provide a bit of context for the pedestrian accident climate. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported a 6.4% increase in pedestrian fatalities countrywide between 2011 and 2012. The rate has increased each consecutive year for the past three years. Moreover, in 2012, the San Francisco Bay Area also had a higher pedestrian fatality rate than 24 other metro areas across the country.

Clearly, there's something disproportionate about San Francisco's pedestrian fatality rate. Why are there so many more senseless pedestrian deaths here? There are so many issues at play: speed limits, adequate crosswalk signage, traffic volume and road design are just a few. But at the most basic level, drivers need to moderate themselves. They need to make sure they are driving as safely as possible at all times. They need to make sure that when someone like Ms. Rodriguez is crossing the street, they stop for her. The city can institute all kinds of safety measures, and some of these may reduce accident rates quite effectively. Still, drivers must also accept responsibility for making our streets safer for everyone.

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