Pedestrians warned of traffic hazards

Okeechobee is in the midst of an epidemic, but this epidemic does not involve coughing or sneezing or an upset stomach. This epidemic has to do with pedestrians and bicyclists involved in car accidents. In the last two weeks alone, six people have been struck by cars in this small town, and contrary to what most might assume, local law enforcement said most of the recent accidents were caused, not so much by distracted driving as they were by distracted walking or biking.

Community Relations Deputy Jack Nash said it is important for people to remember to walk toward traffic, whereas bikes are supposed to go with the traffic, and vehicles have the right of way on a roadway. Deputy Nash said the reason for these rules is to give vehicle drivers more time to react because they can see you coming

Sheriff Noel Stephen said they have seen so many traffic violations in people walking, and people just do not understand how dangerous it can be. Another thing to think about, he said, is your clothing. If you are walking at night, wear light-colored clothing so you can be seen.

Deputy Adrian Rogers explained that people are constantly crossing in the middle of the block rather than going to the crosswalk. They think they have enough time to make it across, but they misjudge it and they get hit. “You only have the right of way in the crosswalk, and even then you need to take precautions. You don’t want to be dead, and have someone say, ‘But, he had the right of way.’”

Sheriff Stephen said bikes have as much right on the roadway as any other vehicle, but they need to stay in the outside lanes.

Deputy Rogers said another problem is people do not pay attention to cars backing up in parking lots and alleys and driveways.

If you are going to be out on the street, you have to pay attention to everything around you. You cannot wander around looking at your phone and expect the drivers of the cars to dodge around you. There is only so much a driver can do to avoid hitting something. You have to do your part, too.

According to the Institute of Police Technology and Management, it is illegal to stand in the portion of the roadway paved for vehicular travel, whether it be for solicitation of a ride or employment or for any other reason. If there is a pedestrian control sign present, legally you must obey it. It is not just a suggestion. If you cross in the middle of the block, it is the pedestrian who must yield. It is always a driver’s duty to avoid hitting a pedestrian, but that does not mean you should not exercise defensive walking just as you would defensive driving. You can’t put your life in someone else’s hands completely. A bicyclist may not wear a headphone or headset of any kind.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) said 49 percent of bicyclists are hit by cars when crossing roadways, and Florida ranks first in the nation for bicycle fatalities. Florida ranks second in the nation in pedestrian fatalities, and 95 percent of pedestrians fatally injured in Florida were Florida residents.

In past years, according to the FDOT, approximately 500 pedestrians per year were killed in traffic accidents and 1,600 were seriously injured in the entire state of Florida. In just the first two weeks of January this year, Okeechobee has already has six pedestrian-vs.-vehicle accidents. Things have gotten out of hand, and people need to pay more attention to what they are doing when they are out in public whether they are driving, walking or biking.
Deputy Nash explained, “If we don’t respect these laws and adhere to them, people are going to get hurt.”

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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