Auto Manifesto

March 7, 2010

A Pedestrian Is Struck - How Did this Happen?

Yesterday morning I had tea with a lady whom I had stopped to help about 6 weeks ago after she was struck by a car while walking across a busy highway. It was remarkable in that she was not seriously injured.

I had been riding my bike to work one drizzly morning when out of the corner of my eye I saw an umbrella on the ground and heard crying. There was a commotion. I stopped. put my bike down and ran over to the scene. People were standing about, a few on the phone to 9-1-1.

A lady was laying on her stomach in the crosswalk in the middle of 3 lanes of traffic, sobbing. I did hear her telling someone her neighbor's address, presumably an emergency contact. Others were tending to her so I helped direct traffic before the police arrived. Route 50 is a major artery in Northern Virginia, and traffic backed up instantly. I could see it was easily half a mile.

Police were very quick, arriving in a matter of about 2-3 minutes after the phone call. Fire and rescue were just another minute or two. Since I did not witness the actual incident, I did not need to stay and give a report.

About a week later I stopped by the lady's neighbor's house to inquire about her condition. I found she had, almost miraculously, been discharged from the hospital the day of the accident, and did not have any broken bones.

Thinking back about the incident, what happened was that she was struck by a left-turning car while crossing the street (see diagram). Since the car had been stopped, it was a low speed incident.

I started wondering about pedestrian airbags. Will they work? I don't know. Perhaps not in this instance, where the pedestrian ends up on the ground in front of the vehicle and not on the hood.

But the actual cause of the accident itself, I think, is because of a number of factors. First, the intersection is a bit tricky. It's a four way with access roads that run parallel to Route 50. On top of that, there are no turn arrows on the cross street, and it's questionable if the "walk" sign was working correctly.

Lastly, I have a theory that newer vehicles have poorer turning visibility due to much thicker A-pillars - a necessity for passing today's roof-crush standards, and to store airbags on some vehicles (the one that struck her was a new crossover SUV). Combine that with the possibility of distracted driving and you have all the ingredients for an accident.

Is it any wonder that we have about 40,000 fatalities and millions of highway injuries each year?

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