Pedestrian Safety

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One-fifth of Americans resolved this new year to become more physically fit.

With no specialized equipment, membership or schedule required, walking and running often top the list of ways to get in shape. From Kevin Kline in “The Big Chill” to Tom Hanks' country-crossing runs in “Forrest Gump,” to 2019's “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” running on roadways is here to stay.

According to the Maryland Department of Transportation, over 100 pedestrians in Maryland were struck and killed in each of the past five years. One in five traffic fatalities involves a pedestrian, and 92% of pedestrians struck were injured or killed. Not surprisingly, about three-fourths of these accidents occur in the dark.

State policy should support safety for pedestrians, including runners. The Maryland Department of Transportation has a 20-Year Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, which focuses on access to biking and walking, as well as a Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, whose mandate is to advise state government agencies on issues directly related to bicycling and pedestrian activity including funding, public awareness, safety and education.

Walking, running and cycling are not only fitness activities that can promote mental and physical health, but they are also inexpensive and environmentally friendly modes of transportation.

The law on road-running isn't particularly clear and neither is public perception. I've heard that in Maryland the pedestrian has the right-of-way, but that is true only in intersections and crosswalks. I've also heard that runners aren't allowed on the road except to cross it, but that's not entirely true either, as pedestrians are allowed to walk on the road if there's no sidewalk.

However, roads without sidewalks or shoulders are increasingly common, especially in newer neighborhoods, mine included. While popular for financial, environmental and aesthetic reasons, shoulder-less roads without sidewalks can be a hazardous no-man's-land for runners and walkers alike. While under the law, drivers must exercise “due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian” and “shall drive at an appropriate, reduced speed when any special danger exists as to pedestrians,” no guidance is given regarding the meaning of "due care" or "special danger." Meanwhile, a pedestrian is defined as "a person afoot," which appears to include runners, but pedestrian activity in the statutes is generally called walking, not running.

I hope to introduce legislation this session to improve safety for runners, other pedestrians and bicyclists. Such legislation will likely include increasing the penalties for a driver operating a vehicle carelessly or distractedly which results in the injury or death of a vulnerable person, such as a pedestrian or cyclist, and permitting drivers to drive on the left side of the road when passing bicycles and motor scooters. Other contemplated legislation may include clarifying the law regarding runners as pedestrians, granting pedestrians right-of-way on shoulders, and giving pedestrians the same three-foot clearance on roadways that bicyclists enjoy.

In the meantime, whether you are aiming for an Ironman or just taking Fido for a longer walk, I encourage all runners, walkers and bikers to do so safely, attentively and courteously, especially during the dark days of winter. Cross at intersections and at crosswalks if possible. Wear light, bright or reflective clothing, or use a light in the dark. Be fulfilled in your fitness goals and respect others' fitness goals. And drivers – stop for walkers and runners in crosswalks and intersections, be attentive, safe and courteous, and share the road. If a runner or biker can touch your car, you are far too close.

Questions, comments or suggestions?  Call 410-841-3510 or email michael.malone@house.state.md.us.

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