January 13, 2013

Editorial: Pedestrian protection


---- — Here’s a scary piece of information: State Police tell us that often, when people hit something with their cars, the drivers say they didn’t know whether they struck an animal or a person or some inanimate object.

And it isn’t just drunk drivers saying that — it comes from perfectly sober people who weren’t speeding.

It is reinforcement of this seemingly common-sense directive: Don’t walk, run or ride a bike alongside any road without reflective colors when there is even a hint of darkness.

In light of several fatal accidents involving people struck by cars, the Press-Republican asked State Police to work with us on an experiment that would test when a driver could see a pedestrian, based on what the walking person was wearing.

Bureau of Criminal Investigation Investigator Michael Campbell, reporter Felicia Krieg and photographer Rob Fountain were in the car as several troopers posed as pedestrians: one in regular street clothes, one with reflective clothing and two others in dark colors. Krieg was at the wheel, knowing there would be pedestrians ahead, and Campbell measured her stopping distance in each scenario with a range finder.

It might seem obvious that the trooper wearing reflective clothing was spotted much earlier, but our reporter and photographer were surprised at how difficult it was to see the others in advance. And our staffers were actually expecting pedestrians — a far different scenario than many drivers on the road at night and in late afternoons in the winter.

If you didn’t see the report in our Jan. 6 newspaper, it is still available online at It is a sobering testimony to an everyday danger that can change lives forever in an instant.

Just ask Christol Mastic, whose son was one of four young people lost in a horrifying accident in November 2011 involving two pedestrians in dark-colored clothing walking alongside a road and two others in a passing car. She accompanied our reporters to State Police headquarters in Ray Brook for the experiment but stayed in the office during the actual driving test. It would have been far too difficult for her to see that scenario unfold.

Mastic has turned her son’s death into a personal challenge to save other lives. One of her causes is an effort to distribute neon shirts to cross-country runners from area schools so they can easily be seen as they train along roads.

Last week, we reported on an effort to improve or add sidewalks in Saranac Lake and Malone. All communities should assess the safety of areas commonly used by pedestrians and bikers and consider whether sidewalks, better signage or bike paths would be helpful.

Drivers should be on alert at all times; you never know when a person or animal will suddenly appear — and your reaction time is much slower than you think.

Property owners must clear sidewalks after snowstorms so walkers aren’t forced into the roads.

But our main message is to pedestrians: Make yourself visible. Wear bright or reflective clothing. Use the sidewalks and bike paths. Be proactive about protecting yourself.