Police investigate the scene of an accident that killed a...

Police investigate the scene of an accident that killed a pedestrian crossing Henry Street in Freeport in December 2021. Credit: John Scalesi

Earlier this month, four pedestrians in one week were struck by motor vehicles. It’s not an unusual occurrence on Long Island’s streets. It’s a worsening epidemic.

The pandemic didn’t help. During the height of the lockdown there were fewer vehicles on the roads, but those vehicles traveled at faster speeds simply because they could on our near-empty streets. And, at the same time, more people were out walking and biking. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, the pedestrian fatality rate rose 22% in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period a year earlier. Subsequent behavioral research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that from March 2020 to June 2021 crashes due to speeding and traveling without a seat belt remained higher than before the pandemic. Such behavior continues.

The four latest victims — a brother and sister out walking, a 68-year old man crossing the street, and a cyclist — are now part of the grim statistics. Two died. Two were injured.

Of the 20 focus communities called out by New York State for high numbers of pedestrian crashes, eight are Long Island communities with the Village of Hempstead taking the unwanted top spot. The others are the towns of Brookhaven, Islip, Oyster Bay, North Hempstead, Babylon, and Huntington, and Freeport Village.

New York’s Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, when it debuted in 2016, offered $110 million to improve safety for pedestrians through infrastructure improvements, public education efforts, and enforcement across upstate and Long Island. While improvements are underway, traffic laws intended to curb speeding and drunk and drugged driving need to be rigorously enforced. Pedestrians must start paying attention to traffic laws intended to help them safely cross the street, especially busy multilane streets.

Irresponsible pedestrian behavior does not usually end well. Nor does irresponsible driver behavior.

Laws meant to keep everyone safe can save lives now. The rules are simple. Walk facing traffic in the absence of a sidewalk. Bikers should ride in the direction of traffic. Motorists must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and be extra cautious when driving near children. If not crossing at a crosswalk, pedestrians must yield to vehicles.

All the laws and tips for pedestrians and drivers are found on the Governors Traffic Safety Committee website. Long Islanders can test their knowledge by taking a quick assessment found on the Walk Safe LI website, a campaign to raise awareness about pedestrian safety and laws.

It’s not an exaggeration to call this an epidemic. The Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research keeps track of pedestrian/cyclist injuries and deaths. The numbers increase each year — 1,008 pedestrian fatalities/injuries recorded in 2020 and 1,275 in 2021 for Nassau and Suffolk counties, more than a 20% increase.

The New York Coalition for Transportation Safety, one of the local organizations promoting law-based education, recorded 164 pedestrian/cyclist injuries/fatalities in news reports between Oct. 1, 2021 and Sept. 30, 2022. This group also surveys participants about their knowledge of laws before and after delivery of educational programs. Not surprisingly, it found for programs offered in 2022 that 83% of the respondents said they learned something new about New York State pedestrian/bike safety laws.

Education does work. Let’s all commit to learning these safety laws and practicing them now.

This guest essay reflects the views of Cindy Brown, executive director of the Westbury-based New York Coalition for Transportation Safety.

This guest essay reflects the views of Cindy Brown, executive director of the Westbury-based New York Coalition for Transportation Safety.


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