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Crosswalk safety addressed
In the wake of a tragedy, a new look at how pedestrians and autos interact
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It’s only May, but so far, Savannah-Chatham police have handled 30 accidents involving pedestrians, including some that proved fatal.

On April 21, two Swedish delegates were struck by a pickup truck as they crossed Oglethorpe Avenue at Bull Street. Nils Eric Svensson, 61, died shortly afterward and Anne Christine Bjarkby, 45, was seriously injured.

Because of this and other tragedies in recent months, police are going to crack down on offenders -- both pedestrians and motorists -- as part of the Crosswalk Awareness and Enforcement Campaign. Star Cpl. Sean Wilson is heading the operation.

Pedestrians and motorists both have rights and responsibilities to ensure safety at crosswalks, Wilson says. However, these laws aren’t always understood. "You can’t just cross the street and expect to have the right of way every time," he says.

Failure to follow the law will be expensive, with fines ranging from $145 to $208. Basically, pedestrians are required to obey all traffic-control devices, such as those found at crosswalks.

According to Georgia law 40-6-91.b, pedestrians can’t walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close, it’s impractical to think the driver has time to yield. It seems like pure common sense, but there are numerous violations to prove that pedestrians aren’t always sensible.

"There’s been a misconception by pedestrians that if there’s a crosswalk there, they can just step out into the street at any time," Wilson said. "Or sometimes drivers will see pedestrians walking in a crosswalk and slam on the brakes because they think they have to stop. That can cause a rear-end collision, which we don’t want."

Jaywalkers are subject to a $208 fine. According to Georgia law 40-6-92.c, pedestrians must yield the right-of-way to all vehicles when they aren’t using a marked crosswalk, and in fact can’t cross at any place but a marked crosswalk at which traffic-control signals are in operation.

Motorists also must obey the laws. That includes stopping to allow a pedestrian to cross at a marked crosswalk. If a vehicle ahead is stopped at a crosswalk for pedestrians, it’s against the law for another vehicle to pass it, no matter how much of a hurry the driver is in.

"Motorists must stop when the pedestrian is in the crosswalk," Wilson says. "If a car is coming and has ample time to stop, the pedestrian can proceed. If a motorist is approaching and sees a pedestrian in a crosswalk, they must stop. It’s not a new law."

Wilson says to ensure everyone stays safe, pedestrians should make eye-contact with drivers at crosswalks before they ever step off the curb. (Waving to say "thank you" is optional.)

Police launched the campaign by issuing warnings instead of citations in targeted areas along Bull, Bay and Broughton streets. At the present time, officers are giving citations -- at nighttime as well as during the day.

While the targeted areas are located downtown, pedestrians and motorists are subject to citations for violations that occur anywhere, anytime. Judy Pal of the SCMPD Public Affairs Office says some recent pedestrian/motorist accidents have occurred on Ogeechee Road.

"Most of the accidents on Ogeechee Road have been caused by people who don’t cross at cross walks," Pal says. "They’ve been trying to cross in the middle of the road."

Tourists gawking at the sights may cause some hazardous situations, but surprisingly, tourists aren’t the bulk of the problem, Wilson says. "Most people who violate the crosswalk rules tend to be local," he says.

Wilson tries to instruct others by doing the right thing. "I spend a lot of time walking downtown," he says. "I try to set an example and follow the rules."