Stop already

November 07, 2003

DRIVER BEWARE: See that man heading into the crosswalk? He could be your average Joe. Or he could be an undercover cop. And if you don't stop, you're busted.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and there's no other way to describe a sting for crosswalk busters. But let's face it, pedestrians are sitting ducks in a crosswalk.

Most motorists apparently look at a crosswalk as painted lines on the pavement. They have little regard for the fact that state law gives pedestrians in a crosswalk the right of way, with or without a traffic signal in place. State-sponsored "Be aware of pedestrians" education campaigns, radio spots, even those fluorescent green signs with a stick figure and red stop sign haven't gotten the message across sufficiently. And the statistics prove it: In the past two years, 200 pedestrians have died. As many as 3,000 a year have been injured.

Even when uniformed police stood guard at an intersection and stepped into a crosswalk, more than 40 percent of motorists kept driving, according to the Maryland Highway Safety Office. Jaywalkers polled by highway officials say they don't use crosswalks. Why? Because motorists don't stop!

The Maryland laws have been on the books for at least two decades. In the Baltimore metropolitan counties and Ocean City, where the pilot enforcement project took place, police issued more than 350 tickets to drivers in crosswalk stings - that's a 100 percent increase over past citations. A motorist who fails to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk without a signal could face jail time and a maximum fine of $500. The threat of jail requires a motorist to appear in court. The penalty is steep, and efforts to bring the punishment in line with speeding tickets should be pursued.

At the same time, pedestrians in crosswalks should feel like they are safe - not like they are targets.

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