Pedestrians urged to heed safety tips

Four pedestrians killed this year while walking along U.S. 441 S.E.

OKEECHOBEE — Since last October, at least four people have been killed while walking along U.S. 441 Southeast at night. Howard Cohen was killed last October. Mr. Cohen was walking east on the north shoulder of U.S. 441 Southeast before he attempted to cross the road to return to his home. Michael Pipitone was killed in January of this year when he was struck by an unknown vehicle on U.S. 441 Southeast. He was out walking late at night. Carly Walls and Jesse Vayda were killed just a few weeks ago on the same highway.

The families of these people want something done to make this road safer, but they don’t know what it will take.

Michael Pipitone’s mother, Mrs. Lavelle, said she thought if they just put some lights out there maybe that would help a little bit. Carly Walls’ sister said the same thing. “It’s so dark out there.” Commissioner Bryant Culpepper said that all new businesses going in on that road are being required to put in sidewalks in front of their businesses, so that will help in some areas.

The Center for Urban Transportation Research, University of South Florida, did a study for the Florida Department of Transportation in 2011 which said Florida’s pedestrian fatality rates were nearly double the national average and our bicycle fatality rates were nearly triple the national average. According to their study, most of these accidents occurred in midblock locations where people tried to cross without going to a crosswalk.

The second highest was at intersections, and the cause for these accidents was usually due to either left-turning maneuvers or right-turn-on-red maneuvers.

The study found 68% of pedestrian fatalities in Florida in 2010 occurred during non-daylight hours.

Okeechobee Police Department Sgt. Cesar Romero said it is important for people to remember to walk toward traffic, whereas bicyclists are supposed to ride with the traffic. Sgt. Romero said the reason for this is to give drivers more time to react because they can see you coming. It also gives the person walking a chance to react to the oncoming vehicle. If the walker is wearing headphones and facing away from traffic, they might not hear a vehicle coming up behind them, and if the vehicle were to swerve off the road at all, they would have no chance to react and save themselves, whereas if they were facing the traffic, they would see the vehicle approach, see it swerve and have the opportunity to jump out of the way.

Bicyclists are not allowed to have headphones in both ears. They must follow the same laws as motorists and leave one ear open to enable them to hear clearly. It is also important to remember to cross at crosswalks rather than between intersections, he said.

You should also consider the clothes you are wearing, he said. If you will be walking at night, choose light colored clothing so you will be seen from a distance. If you have reflective gear, that is an even better choice. Anything you can do to make yourself stand out and let people know you are there.

Sgt. Romero said, “If I were walking, I would try to walk as far away from the traffic as possible. It only takes a second for something to happen. Even if you see a vehicle coming, how long does it take for a vehicle traveling 45 mph to travel five feet? If I look down at my phone, and he looks down at his phone, and texting and driving is one of the biggest things now. People don’t realize that split second is all it takes. How many times have you swerved off the road looking at your GPS? Looking at your phone? A split second. Had there been a person walking there, that would have been an accident right there. You, as a pedestrian, need to be vigilant of the vehicles and the people around you. No matter where I am walking, I watch the cars around me, and I try to catch the driver’s eye if I am trying to cross the street. If I don’t catch his eye, if he isn’t paying attention, I wait. If you get into an accident, we can ticket someone, but what good does that do you if you are injured or dead?”

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