There is a strange sort of consensus in this tragic tale from Atlanta of a child killed as he was crossing in front of his school that somehow, lack of traffic signals is the underlying problem.
Traffic signals, however, despite our fetishistic belief in them, are not a safety device per se: They are a means for directing traffic flow. To the extent they actually get drivers to stop (for fear of being struck by another car), they have an ancillary benefit for pedestrians. But they also encourage drivers to look up away from the street, and to accelerate towards an intersection (potentially crowded with pedestrians) so as to not miss a light. They may also raise a false sense of security amongst pedestrians.
But as the story notes, there was no shortage of warning here:
A crossing guard was on duty and had carried a stop sign into the street, and other vehicles had stopped, police spokeswoman Mekka Parish said.
Road signs warn drivers they are approaching the school crosswalk. Ogilvie’s car was southbound. Drivers coming from the north pass a flashing school zone sign on a roadside post and a sign warning, “Stop for pedestrians in crosswalk” before traveling over a small hill just north of the school.
Exactly how many more warnings this driver needed (no word if they were on a phone or similarly distracted) before realizing they were in an area with crossing schoolchildren is unknown — and why, having missed all these other signs, this driver would magically stop for a traffic light (more than 3000 people a year are killed by people who don’t), is beyond me. At what point do we treat the issue of driver responsibility, instead of cursing the absence of a set of colored lights in the sky or some bit of road engineering?
The piece skirts around the real issue: Driver speeds (from experience people in the Atlanta region treat small neighborhood streets as high-speed shortcuts). It could have also noted the much greater likelihood of a pedestrian dying when struck by an SUV, rather than a car.
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