EDITORIAL: You trying to kill me?

MEDICAL EXPERTS CAN’T CONFIRM a diagnosis of chronic cantankerousness. So to hell with their curmudgeon index. It’s a thoroughly worthless measurement concocted by idiot scientists intent on giving grumpiness a bad name. I’m fine, thank you, and I have a complaint.

In this state, by which I mean New York, not agitation, the law requires that motorists stop or yield for pedestrians in marked crosswalks. One study (mine) of drivers in a Columbia County village found that 71.3% (the number is made up, but think of it as “most”) either were ignorant of the law or were too intoxicated or too busy texting to obey the rules.

Let’s look at the ignorance assumption, because people driving drunk or texting behind the wheel are, by definition, already engaged in illegal activities. For the benefit of the others, the New York State Vehicle and Traffic laws, Title 7, Article 27 “PEDESTRIANS’ RIGHTS AND DUTIES,” Section 1151 (a), “Pedestrians’ right of way in crosswalks,” reads as follows:

When traffic-control signals are not in place or not in operation the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right of way, slowing down or stopping if need be to so yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk on the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling…

To review, the law says clearly that if you’re driving a vehicle on a road with a crosswalk you have to stop or yield for somebody in that crosswalk. And please don’t think you can convince the pedestrian to walk faster if you keep slowly rolling toward the walker or shake your fist. The dog and I have been known to freeze in such situations, paralyzed by fear of what stupid thing you’ll do next.

The law does attempt to achieve a balance between the value it places on the lives of pedestrians and the time constraints it puts on drivers who are late for their haircuts.

Section (b) of the law says:

No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impractical for the driver to yield.

This means that if you suddenly find that the dog and I have materialized in front of you without giving you enough time to slam on the brakes because your cell phone was ringing and it got stuck in your pocket and you spilled your coffee trying to extract it–under those circumstances, you can legally run us down. You also get to mount our heads on your wall with your other roadkill trophies. That’s only fair.

And relax, because Section (c) of the law says that it’s illegal for the driver of the car in your rearview mirror to swing around you through the crosswalk and snap up that parking spot you wanted just beyond me and the dog.

Yes, this is personal. Columbia County has the distinction of being one of the “oldest” counties in the state based on the median age and the percentage of the population over 60. Some of us… me, anyway… can be grumpy about the frequent violations we see when it comes to the crosswalk law. And we have reason to be edgy, as it turns out. A real study of pedestrian deaths from vehicle accidents in Dutchess County found that pedestrians over the age of 60 accounted for more than half the vehicle-pedestrian accident deaths between 2008 and 2010, even though older people comprised less than a fifth of the county’s population. I’m one of the people you’re likely to kill or injure if you ignore the crosswalk law.

But this is about more than obeying a common-sense law. It’s about quality of life, and not just for older people. All ages are rediscovering why humans have lived in villages for thousands of years. As much as Americans love our cars, anybody who lives in a village knows it’s often less expensive and more convenient to walk where you want to go. It actually brings pleasure, too. That’s not a sign of grumpiness, it’s all about joy.

Now would be the point in the editorial to demand increased enforcement of the crosswalk law by local, county and state police agencies. But it would so much better if drivers learned to watch for those white stripes and remembered to stop when they see someone crossing. Maybe you’d understand the need if you tried walking once in a while. You might even like it.







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