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Watch Your Step

Don’t become a statistic.

August 13, 2009
Sarah Ruppenthal · Editorial Assistant
As children, our parents, teachers and in some cases, a friendly Sesame Street puppet, instructed us to always look both ways before crossing the street.

But in today’s frenzied pace of life, it appears we may have forgotten this childhood maxim, as pedestrians regularly dart across congested roadways, avoiding oncoming traffic as if it were a high-stakes game of gym-class dodge ball.

This has become an everyday occurrence in places like Wailuku, Lahaina and Pa‘ia; where startled drivers slam on their brakes to (literally) steer clear of a swift-footed pedestrian scampering across the street. While this kind of activity may seem to be the norm, these stealthy daredevils (otherwise known as “jaywalkers”) are arguably running the risk of serious injury, even death. So is it really worth it? In an informal poll, several of Pa‘ia Town’s most brazen jaywalkers admitted to me that they consider crosswalks to be inconvenient, and waiting at an intersection for the light to change is nothing short of maddening. Others confessed they are in such a rush that it’s worth the risk to stop traffic. And then there were some who presumed that jaywalking is legal because it happens all the time. But it isn’t.

According to statewide traffic and pedestrian codes, jaywalking in Hawai‘i is not only illegal, it is also costly. In 2006, Honolulu Police Department (HPD) officers launched an undercover jaywalking sting operation, issuing thousands of citations ranging from $70 to $130 per infraction. If you scoff at the thought of a jaywalking ticket, keep this in mind: HPD’s Pedestrian Safety Division reported an average of 28 pedestrian fatalities and 560 injuries each year throughout the state. Even worse, Hawai‘i has the fourth highest pedestrian fatality rate in the country. And what is the common denominator? HPD said the majority of fatalities occurred because pedestrians failed to use crosswalks or cross at controlled intersections. The statistics may be shocking, but they have done little to deter many of Hawai‘i’s jaywalkers.

So, what’s the lesson to be learned? If there is a crosswalk, use it. Sure, you might sacrifice a few minutes of your time, but crosswalks are a safer—and more visible—means of passage. However, crosswalks don’t always guarantee a safe crossing. In 2006, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration reported more than 470 crosswalk fatalities nationwide, as drivers routinely failed to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, disobeyed traffic signals or used poor judgment behind the wheel. Despite this, your best bet is to stay within the lines (another Sesame Street tutorial) of a crosswalk or intersection. Conversely, by law, Hawai‘i motorists must yield to pedestrians in a (legal) crosswalk and should take extra precautions in pedestrian-heavy areas. While it may seem harmless, jaywalking can be hazardous for drivers and pedestrians alike. So, the next time you cross the street, look both ways before you put your best foot forward—your life may very well depend on it.

Article Photos

Sarah Ruppenthal · Editorial Assistant



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