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Safe Walks to School Require Safe Street Design and Driver Education

Letter to Joshua Starr, Ike Leggett, and Craig Rice
September 16, 2014

We were happy to see this morning's press release announcing a new effort to reduce pedestrian deaths. However, we believe that this effort is misguided because it does not focus on the real causes of pedestrian deaths.

The fundamental cause of pedestrian injury and death is the unsafe design of our roads. Humans are fallible and easily distracted. If pedestrian safety depends on humans acting perfectly at all times, then pedestrians will continue to die. The good news is that we know how to design roads to be safe for pedestrians and drivers alike. We ask you to use the considerable powers of your respective positions to encourage Montgomery County and the State of Maryland to redesign the roads around schools in the county so that children can safely use them to walk to and from school.

An additional cause of pedestrian injury and death is the unsafe and often illegal driver behavior encouraged by the unsafe road design. We believe that the best target for a public education campaign is drivers, not pedestrians. Unsafe or distracted pedestrians endanger themselves; unsafe or distracted drivers can kill. Drivers need to know that that the law requires them to stop for pedestrians at all marked and unmarked crosswalks and that every intersection without a traffic signal is a legal crosswalk. They need to know that pedestrians have the right to cross most streets in mid-block as long as they yield the right of way to cars. They need to be reminded to look for pedestrians when turning, whether at intersections or into driveways. They need to know that if they hit a pedestrian at 40 mph, there is an 85% chance that the pedestrian will die.

Everybody should use the roads safely. But it is very difficult to do so, when the roads themselves are unsafe. In addition, since drivers have the greatest potential for causing harm, they also have the greatest obligation to use the road safely. Please refocus your energies into programs that will do the most to keep students safe: lowering speed limits in school zones; redesigning roads to be safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists; and driver education.

With hope for safer streets for all,


Wendy Leibowitz, Board Member, Safe Walks to School
Action Committee for Transit
(and mother of Naomi, 3rd grader at Bethesda Elementary School)