According to a report today on NPR, Des Moines transit buses have hit seven pedestrians in the last two years while making left turns. Seven. That seems like a lot. And the most recent accident occurred just this past Monday.
The city initially addressed the problem by increasing driver training, erecting warning signs for pedestrians, and forbidding the use of cell phones by bus drivers while on duty. And now the city has taken two additional steps to curb the accidents. Drivers must now honk as they make turns to warn pedestrians and they must follow new routes in the downtown core that do not include left-hand-turns. The second step seems to make sense by eliminating the left-hand-turn danger altogether. The second, however, seems a bit misguided. The honk requirement does nothing to increase a bus driver’s awareness of pedestrians who may be in their path. Rather, it puts the burden on pedestrians to get out of the way if they hear a honk – even if they have the right-of-way in a cross walk. Whatever happened to the notion that as between vehicles and pedestrians, pedestrians have the right-of-way?
To be fair, Des Moines is not the only city that has this problem. An article in The Plain Dealer last January reports that Cleveland had nine left bus accidents in a two year period, eight of them involving pedestrians. Los Angeles and Minneapolis have also had similar accidents and the list goes on. So what can done?
The recipe does not seem that complex. First, there must be clear and effective operation policies in place to ensure safe driving. Next, agencies must carefully screen and hire drivers to make sure that there are no issues with accident histories, moving violations, etc. Once hired, drivers must be carefully trained on the safe driving policies and finally, once on the road, there must be consistent oversight to ensure that drivers are following the safe driving policies. If the proper steps are taken, the number of such left turn bus accidents, and bus accidents in general, will be greatly reduced.
Bret Hanna of Wrona DuBois in Utah, focuses exclusively on litigating plaintiffs’ medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has represented clients in state and federal courts, in mediations, and in administrative proceedings in Michigan and Utah since 1991.