SEBRING — Pedestrians and bicyclists make up a large percentage of hit and run fatalities even though they are involved in a small percentage of the crashes. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, an alarming 59 percent of all hit and run fatalities are pedestrians, and bicyclists made up 15 percent of the fatalities in 2018.
Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Scott Dressel said, “Drivers should always be on the lookout for pedestrians, particularly at night. Distracted driving is probably a factor in a lot of cases where pedestrians are struck by vehicles, but in many others, it is simply driving a little too fast for conditions and not leaving yourself enough reaction time.
“When driving and approaching an intersection, it is also important to watch for pedestrians because they can have the right of way in a lot of crosswalks,” he said.
“Pedestrians should always be mindful of where they are walking,” Dressel said. “Walk facing oncoming traffic and move out of the roadway when you see a car coming. Wear clothing that will make you visible, especially at night. When using a crosswalk, even if you have the right of way, you should never assume a driver sees you and is going to stop.
“Make sure before you step into the path of a moving vehicle,” he said. “Even if you are legally in the right, if you get hit by a car, you aren’t right — you are just hurt.”
“The best advice to drivers regarding pedestrians is the same as everything else: awareness,” Lake Placid Police Chief James Fansler said. “Being aware of people walking along the road, crossing, standing — the same as they should be aware of a vehicle coming at them or driving next to them.
“Being aware is key,” Fansler said.
His advice for pedestrians echoes his advice to drivers. “Never assume a driver sees you and is going to move over,” Fansler said.
“If they are striking emergency vehicles that are lit up like the Starship Enterprise, they are even more likely to hit a pedestrian,” he said. “Electronic devices are, in my opinion, one of the most dangerous things ever invented. I see it all the time — a person walking, riding a bike, driving while staring into a mobile device.
“The bottom line is to be aware of your surroundings at all times,” Fansler said.
“As for pedestrians, drivers need to pay particular attention to the road where pedestrians are likely to be, such as parking lots, neighborhoods, downtown areas, and school zones,” Sebring Police Cmdr. Curtis Hart said.
“Drivers need to lessen any distractions while operating a motor vehicle and pay attention,” Hart said. “Pedestrians also need to obey the traffic laws when traversing sidewalks and roadways, such as crossing at specified crosswalks, obeying traffic signals, looking before entering a roadway, and using sidewalks whenever possible.
“Pedestrians having to utilize the roadway where sidewalks are not provided should always use the shoulder of the left side of the roadway in relation to their direction of travel, facing traffic,” Hart said. “As a safety practice, pedestrians walking at night should also think about wearing reflective clothing or carrying a light with them to warn drivers of their presence.”
Drivers and pedestrians are encouraged to practice safety on the roadway to prevent hit and run crashes. However, when crashes do occur, staying at the scene can save a life, especially if there are injuries involved.