When his phone rings in the middle of the night, Broward Sheriff’s Office Detective Michael Kelliher knows something terrible has happened.
Kelliher, a member of the Traffic Homicide Investigations unit, only gets called out when someone is seriously injured or dead on the road. Increasingly, he ends up working fatal accidents involving a pedestrian or bicyclist who did not follow traffic laws.
“There is an issue with the pedestrians and the bicyclists,” he said. “Currently, the pedestrians [are a bigger problem than motorists]. Sometimes they are crossing major roadways where they have to go across 10 to 12 lanes of travel.”
Law enforcement agencies throughout Broward County are rallying to help reduce traffic crashes and fatalities involving pedestrians and bicyclists through the “Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow” campaign in partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation and the University of South Florida Center for Urban and Transportation Research.
“Behavior across all modes of transportation is a huge contributor to pedestrian and bicycle crashes,” said Trenda McPherson, the Florida Department of Transportation bicycle and pedestrian safety manager. “Unfortunately, pedestrians and bicyclists are the most vulnerable of all road users.”
Statewide, there were 606 pedestrian fatalities and 7,737 pedestrian injuries in 2014. In the same period, there were 135 bicyclist fatalities and 6,680 bicyclist injuries. Most fatal crashes occur at dusk or at night, when pedestrians and bicyclists are harder to spot.
Broward County had the second-highest number of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities in Florida, according to the most recent statistics from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
During the campaign, which runs through May, authorities will hand out educational materials and issue warnings or citations to pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists who break traffic laws in 14 Broward cities, including Fort Lauderdale, Margate, Lauderhill, Miramar, Sunrise, Wilton Manors, Pembroke Pines, Pompano Beach and Oakland Park.
Kelliher sees the campaign as an opportunity to help prevent an accident.
“I normally don’t get to speak with the pedestrian until it’s already too late,” he said.
On Thursday afternoon, Kelliher and his partner parked at a Walgreens at the corner of West Oakland Park Boulevard and North State Road 7 in Lauderdale Lakes and watched as dozens of people walked into oncoming traffic to get from one shopping plaza to the other.
“We’re out here trying to educate,” Kelliher told a pedestrian he had waved over. “We get called out when there’s a bad accident and we don’t want that to happen to you.”
A man wearing headphones walked onto the median, then ran across the street when he saw no cars were coming.
“I know I’m not supposed to cross here, but I’m trying to catch the bus,” the man told detectives.
Kelliher said most bus stops are in the middle of the block, and riders end up crossing in the middle of the road instead of going to the crosswalk at either intersection.
Pedestrians also take the risk of crossing where they’re not supposed to when a road has a median, he said. But drivers sometimes don’t notice or expect to see a person stepping from the median into the street.
In a span of two months, Kelliher investigated three cases where people had been hit and killed while jaywalking in the 4100 block of North State Road 7.
“It’s harder for drivers to see you in the middle of the street or stepping off a median,” he said. “They expect to see a pedestrian at the crosswalk.”
firstname.lastname@example.org, 954-356-4544 or Twitter: @rebecapiccardo