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Florida Leads Country in Pedestrian Fatalities

Florida is the number one state for pedestrians to be hit by cars, according to a study by Smart Growth America.

Eight out of the top nine cities were in Florida. Moreover, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area came in at number 14.

The report’s title is “Dangerous by Design.” Several Florida cities are being revisited and “Vision Zero” policies adopted to protect pedestrians and cyclists.

Vision Zero in Tampa included making crosswalks near schools brightly colored. In neighboring St. Petersburg, there is a plan for separate bike lanes among other improvements.

Defense lawyer Edward Reyes says he thinks the crashes are largely due to distracted drivers combined with outdated roadways. “I personally think that the roads themselves could use better designs,” he said.

Governmental agencies in the Tampa area and across Florida have looked to the “Vision Zero” policies but not all roads have been changed. Reyes said that he sees injuries like road rash, broken bones, and traumatic brain injury most.

“I think that the cities and the counties and Florida Department of Transportation could do better because the roads are set up to [for] speed but there’s not really any areas for pedestrians.”

He said that in many places in Hillsborough county, where he practices, there are not even sidewalks. “There’s some sidewalks in some areas but not all and there’s really no place for cyclists — at least not in Hillsborough County,” he said.

He sees a disparity in neighborhoods that have frequent crosswalks and sidewalks as well. ‘The neighborhoods that are more affluent have crosswalks in all the corners and the neighborhoods that are not so affluent — the hood essentially — have like one crosswalk far away,” said Reyes.

His clients are often without the means to drive and therefore walk or bike more and are at a greater risk of being injured. “So what happens is that there’s an economic disparity because in the areas that are economically challenged people walk more because they don’t have cars and they don’t have insurance, they don’t have money so they’re walking a lot more,” he said.

Ironically, there are usually less crosswalks and sidewalks in the areas where his clients depend on them Reyes added. Even in more affluent areas, drivers are often not aware and Reyes feels they do not face enough consequences.

On January 9, a driver struck and killed a jogger on Bayshore Beautiful in Tampa, Florida. The driver was intoxicated but if he had not hit anyone the consequences would be vastly different.

A first-time DUI in the State of Florida only requires a punishment of one year of probation, 50 hours of community service and the vehicle impounded for 10 days.

If someone has a higher blood-alcohol content, which this driver did, he could spend nine months in jail and have to pay a 2,000 fine but that requires a judge’s order.

Reyes thinks that bigger consequences on the road will help drivers think twice about their choices. “In construction zones, it says speed fines are doubled in these areas and people are more apt to slow down in construction zones and in school zones because they know that if they get a ticket the cost is substantially more money,” said Reyes.

He said that accidents often happen at intersections and are due to the fact that people are distracted or are careless.

Reyes thinks that harsher punishments and more signage could help pedestrians and cyclists be more safe in Florida. “You may do it once, you may do it twice, but then that third time you’re like, ‘you know what I’m not going to speed through that area because that ticket it like 400 bucks.”