As cars zipped through the intersection, not stopping for pedestrians stepping into the crosswalk as required by law, Daren Wong provided a reasonable explanation why vehicles weren’t coming to a halt.
Preoccupied, distracted and pushed for time all come into play.
“I think in the morning, people are obviously in a rush to get somewhere, either to school or to work,” explained Wong, an officer with the South Pasadena Police Department. “Their minds are on other things sometimes, divided attention…could be a whole host of reasons.”
Wong and fellow South Pasadena Police Officer Ryan Hang, both dressed in civilian clothes, were key to a traffic enforcement detail Tuesday morning as they posed as pedestrians crossing the street. When drivers failed to stop their cars, officers on motorcycles sped out from side streets to nab the violators.
From 8 a.m. to about 9:30 a.m., police officials, some from outside agencies, enforced the law at Monterey Road and Orange Grove Avenue, citing 42 over that stretch, before moving the operation to Oak Street and Garfield Avenue, near the South Pasadena San Marino YMCA, later in the morning where another 17 motorists were ticketed for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a marked crosswalk. Units from Alhambra, San Gabriel and Cal State L.A. assisted in the operation involving eight officers.
Motorists also received citations for failing to yield, continuing through the intersection, when another vehicle was stopped at the crosswalk.
“Basically you always have to travel in the defensive,” is Wong’s advice to those behind the wheel. “You don’t want to go through the aftermath should something bad happen. Try to avoid it before it even gets there.”
Over the years, efforts have been stepped up in the city to nab violators whizzing through marked intersections where pedestrians are trying to cross.
“We’re trying to call attention to pedestrians and motorists about the risk involved when a person and a vehicle want to occupy the same space,” said SPPD Detective Mike Palmieri, during a similar operation a year ago. “A lot of pedestrians think once they are in the crosswalk that motorists will stop for them. But obviously that’s not the case all the time.”
When crossing the street, Palmieri says it’s important for pedestrians to make contact with motorists “just to make sure they see you,” he explained. “You never know what distraction they might have that will take their eyes off you as you attempt to cross the street.”
Motorists cited for failing to yield for pedestrians, with court fees, receive tickets in the neighborhood of $238, according to Holland. He said passing a stopped vehicle at a crosswalk in a bigger no-no, exceeds $400 “because it’s more dangerous.”
According to the vehicle code, the motorist must yield to pedestrians once they are in the crosswalk.
“But it’s also important for pedestrians to pay attention of their surroundings as they cross the street, look left and right as they’re walking, and make eye contact,” explained Holland. “Stay off your phone, don’t be distracted, don’t expect the drivers are going to stop for you, and make it safely across. Drivers need to pay attention. See someone in the crosswalk, you have to stop.”
If a vehicle is stopped at a crosswalk, a car must stop, whether or not pedestrian can be seen. That’s to protect people who might be short or in a wheelchair in front of a car while coming across in a crosswalk.
Hang, the police officer looking the part of the everyday resident getting a morning walk in while wearing a beany cap and jacket to stay warm, made his way across the street numerous times during the traffic enforcement operation.
He experienced a couple of “close calls” as he made his way across busy Monterey Road in the crosswalk. “Everyone’s going to work in a hurry. It’s distractive driving,” Hang noted as to why cars don’t always come to a stop when they should. “At the end of the day, it’s the pedestrian’s due diligence to basically cross the road safely.”
Echoed Holland: “It’s a problem everywhere. People are being hit in crosswalks and getting killed. People in cars are too busy doing other things [to look around for pedestrians.] They’re talking on their cell phones, eating, listening to their radios. They need to scan the road as they are approaching the intersection. You just can’t stare straight ahead.”
However, he admits it doesn’t always fall on the motorists’ shoulders. “The kids need to also be aware,” he said. “They’ve got their cell phones, not looking around. Everybody is preoccupied doing something else.”
Insisted Wong: “Don’t assume because you’re the pedestrian they will automatically stop, because sometimes that may not be the case. There’s a responsibility on both sides, whether you’re the pedestrian or the motorist.”
Local police officials say safety is a top priority for residents and visitors.
“When a car is going to meet a pedestrian, one person is going to lose and it’s not going to be the car,” Palmieri said.