Advocates: New pedestrian traffic laws will promote 'culture change'

A new statewide pedestrian law going into effect Oct. 1 will clarify a current law regarding The intersection of Hill Street and Coram Avenue could one day be home to raised crosswalks as a way to calm traffic and provide a safer pedestrian walkway.

A new statewide pedestrian law going into effect Oct. 1 will clarify a current law regarding The intersection of Hill Street and Coram Avenue could one day be home to raised crosswalks as a way to calm traffic and provide a safer pedestrian walkway.

Brian Gioiele / Hearst Connecticut Media

A new statewide pedestrian law going into effect Oct. 1 will rely more on cultural change than an increase in enforcement, transportation officials and safety advocates said.

The move clarifies a current law that says drivers must yield to pedestrians who step off from the curb into the crosswalk or risk paying a $500 fine. The Oct. 1 legislation will change that wording to require drivers to slow down if the pedestrian indicates intent to cross by raising a hand to oncoming traffic or by moving any body part into the crosswalk, according to the Department of Transportation.

Amy Watkins, the director of Watch For Me CT, a joint venture between the Department of Transportation and and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, said safety advocates are hoping that the law will mark a shift in the pedestrian-driver culture and ultimately prevent more deaths.

“There’s not going to be cops everywhere on Oct. 1 giving you a ticket because you didn’t stop when a pedestrian raise their hand,” Watkins said. “We’re really aiming for a culture change over time, where we create roads that are more friendly to everybody. It’s not a panacea, it’s not an end-all — it’s a step towards making our roads a little more friendly no matter how you’re traveling.”

Not much will change in the way Stamford, for example, will monitor areas of high pedestrian traffic, said Sergeant Jeffrey Booth, who heads the city’s serious injury collisions unit.

“We normally enforce pedestrian safety anyway,” Booth said. “We as a traffic unit will continue to do that.”

DOT pushed a host of other traffic-related safety measures this year, including another Oct. 1 law that prevents “dooring.”

This law prohibits a person from causing physical contact between a vehicle door and moving traffic by opening the door if the moving traffic is traveling at a reasonable speed with due regard for the safety of people and property, according to DOT

The new laws come in response to a national increase in pedestrian injuries and fatalities, Watkins said.

In Connecticut, there have been at least 30 pedestrian deaths so far this year and 61 pedestrian deaths in 2020. Since 2018, there have been around 200 fatalities and 3,932 injuries, according to data provided by Watch For Me CT.

And fatalities in 2018 and 2019 were the highest they’ve been since 1990, said DOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti in a statement. There was an “unprecedented” 55 percent increase in pedestrian deaths between 2009 and 2018, Giulietti said.

Jim Travers, who heads Norwalk’s transportation division, said that city is constantly analyzing high-pedestrian areas to determine whether the city’s infrastructure is safe enough. He said community education is another key component in keeping fatalities down.

But the best way to prevent injury hasn’t changed — always stay alert, both as a driver and a pedestrian, Booth said.

“The law itself, will it make pedestrians safer? It’s possible,” Booth said. “We won’t know until we see it in action for a couple of months. It puts more responsibility on the drivers, that they have to be more diligent looking out for pedestrians. We put the onus on pedestrians too — don’t just run into the crosswalks.”