Caution Urged for Pedestrians and Drivers as Strikes Continue to Rise

By Lura Jackson


The number of pedestrians struck by vehicles is on the rise nationally according to the federal Department of Transportation, and in Maine the number of fatal pedestrian strikes rose by 20 percent last year. Nationally speaking, the number of pedestrian fatalities is at a 25-year high. While there are a number of potential causes for the increase, the factor that is continuously pointed to is the level of distraction of both drivers and pedestrians themselves.

“‘Stop the text, stop the wrecks’ also applies to pedestrians,” said Calais Fire-EMS Chief Ken Clark, describing how it is very possible for pedestrians to incur accidents if they are looking at their phones. 

Drivers routinely use their cell phones to make calls, something that is not specifically illegal in Maine – however, if the driver is clearly distracted by their device or their phone call, police may write a ticket for distracted driving. According to national data published in 2016 by automobile insurer Everquote, drivers average about one call on their cellphones per trip while driving. More specifically, it found that for every 11 miles traveled, drivers were on the phone for about 0.4 miles. Maine has considered banning the use of cellphones outright while driving, with both the House and the Senate passing a bill last year – however, it was rejected by Governor Paul LePage. 

Texting while driving is unquestionably illegal in Maine. Despite that, the number of people doing it has continued to rise. The law prohibiting the act was passed in 2011, and 48 citations were issued statewide that year. Within five years, the number of annual citations increased to 866. 

There are factors that improve pedestrian safety, including reducing speed limits. Even a small decrease can make a substantial difference. After parsing data from the AAA Safety Foundation, Propublica’s Lena Groeger found that pedestrians have a 93 percent chance of survival if they are struck by a car traveling 20 mph. Past that point, the odds of survival decrease rapidly. If a person is struck by a car traveling 30 mph, they are 70 percent more likely to be killed than if they are struck by a car traveling 25 mph, for example.

Walking on a sidewalk can dramatically reduce the chances that a pedestrian will be struck. Accordingly, Calais invested approximately $1 million in its sidewalks in recent years to expand and improve their coverage around town.

Time of day is another factor in pedestrian safety. 74 percent of pedestrian strikes occur at night, according to data from the Governors Highway Safety Association. “The best precaution is to wear bright reflective clothing and a light while walking at night,” provided Chief Clark.

In Calais, there were no major pedestrian accidents last year. Sergeant Bill White of the Calais Police Department shared that there was a single incident responded to: that of a cyclist running into the side of a car. There were no injuries resulting from the accident.

The recent addition of upgraded traffic lights at the intersection of Main and North and at the shopping center intersection on North Street may improve pedestrian safety in those locations. Pedestrians that utilizing the crossing system are now guided by audible notifications, including instructions to “wait” and a series of beeps signaling it is safe to cross.