|JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri transportation officials are concerned. After just nine months in 2011, the number of pedestrian traffic deaths is nearly equal to those experienced in 2010. In fact, during the first quarter of 2011, 21 pedestrian deaths were recorded, compared to nine during the same period in 2010.
Fatal incidents occurred in urban and rural areas, on highways and city streets, during the night and in broad daylight. Those killed included people crossing the road or walking along the side and those who exited their vehicle after an earlier crash and were struck by other traffic.
By the end of September, 54 pedestrians died as a result of a traffic crash. In all of 2010, there were 57 similar fatalities. The Missouri Department of Transportation launched a safety campaign, "Be Safe. Be Seen" to remind pedestrians and motorists to look out for each other.
Part of the problem, safety advocates think, has to do with people already experiencing a bad day by having a flat tire or mechanical problem.
"If I say ‘pedestrian,' you tend to think of someone out for exercise or kids walking to school," said Leanna Depue, MoDOT highway safety director. "But a pedestrian is any person near or on a roadway who is not in a vehicle or on a motorcycle. For example, someone changing a tire on the side of the road is a pedestrian."
"Stay alert to the traffic around you and don't expect that vehicles will yield," said Depue. "Make yourself visible - especially if your car is disabled. Turn on the headlights and hazard lights."
The Missouri State Highway Patrol also recommends that once drivers pull as far off the road as possible, all occupants remain in the vehicle with seat belts fastened.
"If you have pulled off the roadway onto the shoulder for any kind of emergency or vehicle malfunction and need assistance, call *55 or display a Send Police sign," said Captain Tim Hull, Missouri State Highway Patrol. "The trooper will provide assistance and request the assistance of additional emergency services should they be needed."
Copies of the "Send Police" sign are available from any Highway Patrol troop headquarters.
MoDOT recommends that when walking near a highway or street, move in the opposite direction of traffic, so you can see oncoming vehicles.
"I tell people use their senses," said Depue. "Look at the drivers' faces. Are they looking at you? If not, move away from the road. Listen for unusual noises. Using earbuds, headphones or a phone can keep you from hearing a vehicle approach."
It's also important to note that drivers are more likely to expect to see pedestrians at crosswalks and intersections. Even at those locations, pedestrians should keep close watch and prepare to yield to vehicles.
"It's a two-way street," said Brent Hugh, executive director of the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation. "Drivers need to watch and drive with care around pedestrians, and pedestrians need to look for cars. Even when the pedestrian has the right of way, that right won't stop an oncoming vehicle."