Jill Bennett received more than a little mockery in March when the Vancouver radio host took to social media to vent against traffic calming measures. When Jalopnik, a website that describes itself as “obsessed with the cult of cars,” takes aim, that’s a sign that someone’s windshield bias has gone too far.
What was this drama all about? Bennett posted a photograph of a vehicle wedged on a banana barrier – a large concrete barrier painted bright yellow. The reporter complained that this infrastructure was “useless,” does not “slow down traffic,” and “causes crashes and traffic chaos” failed to mention that this incident happened on a road with “slow street” signage. Safety vigilantes did not drop signs and barriers under a veil of darkness – these changes materialized after several years of formal process which included public feedback.
If someone can mount their SUV atop a highly visible and completely stationary object on a street designated for walking, biking, rolling, emergency services, and local vehicle access, it should come as no surprise that humans bedecked in clothing just as visible are also getting hit, and no amount of telling drivers to act better has made a difference. Another tactic is needed.
Starting today, speed cameras will be operational in three construction zones across Connecticut; that is the maximum allowed in this pilot program that expires at the end of this year. The description of where cameras will be placed can be found in various places online.There will be signs alerting motorists of the cameras, in addition to the standard highly visible construction zone signs that are dangerously ignored. Motorists will have what is a more generous than deserved window of law breaking in that they will not be issued a ticket until they go 15 mph or more over the posted speed limit in an area where people are especially vulnerable, though it only applies to places where the speed limit is 45 mph or greater. They only receive a warning for the first offense and will not get points on their driver’s license. Repeat offenders will have fines to pay, or the annoyance of disputing them. This has received ample media coverage.
Still, there are those who will claim that either they were unaware of cameras or complain that this is an act of government overreach – or both – because perhaps they would rather workers die quietly in the name of repairing highways. Let’s be honest: if a motorist cannot see and avoid driving onto a banana barricade, we already know some will not see a white SUV with a speed camera in a well-marked construction zone.
Pedestrians and cyclists are often scolded for not wearing hi-vis, as if someone deserves to get injured, as if they were asking for it, as if the color of clothing has magical protective properties. In Connecticut, since 2015, drivers have killed 10 pedestrians and injured an additional 243 pedestrians/cyclists who were wearing reflective clothing. Many were construction workers, including flaggers, who were hit while at sites marked with bright orange cones, but many were other types of workers: parking lot attendants, retail employees gathering carts, sanitation workers, firefighters, and crossing guards.
In some cases, motorists hit police officers who were wearing reflective clothing while standing near cruisers that had their emergency lights flashing. Also struck were pedestrians and cyclists who chose to wear hi-vis clothing, not as work-issued PPE, but for their own personal reasons. Many people, every year, are the perfect victim in that they wore reflective clothing, used lights, stayed in whatever area was designated for their use, remained undistracted, and this defies the myth that if only the pedestrian had behaved better, they would not be injured or killed. So, if we know that all the reflective clothing and construction zone signs are not enough to slow motorists down, what else can be done?
Speed cameras, not awareness campaigns, are what improve driver behavior where and when the technology is used. Studies show this, and there is nothing exceptional about our state to give us reason to believe their deployment would have different results here. As Jalopnik put it to motorists: “You’re the one driving the 5,000-lb vehicle. You’re the one responsible for making sure you don’t hit anything or anyone.” And for those who will not simply behave like adults when operating heavy machinery, perhaps the threat of a fine for every subsequent offense will convince them to drive with more respect for others.