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In conflict between cars and pedestrians, the cars have an advantage

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Akmed Khalifa
Akmed Khalifa holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degree from Metropolitan State University, studied as an artist in residence at the Minneapolis Playwright's Center, and is a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Hamline University.
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You've seen them, pedestrians strolling casually across an intersection as though they have bumpers on their butts, ignoring the approaching tonnage of vehicular mass, and often walking against the light or as it is turning red. I've imagined them humming the "Wizard of Oz" Scarecrow's signature song, "If I Only Had a Brain." Many of them appear to eye the traffic with disdain, with an air of, "You'd better not hit me." 

Don't get me wrong. I believe in vehicles yielding to pedestrians, even when they walk unmindfully or unlawfully across the street. When I'm behind the wheel I err on the side of caution, something that most drivers do as well. But there is the occasional driver who, like those pedestrians, seems to feel a sense of entitlement to the roadway. That attitude spells danger, for the drivers and for the pedestrians.

I've always wondered what the actual law dictates for the interaction of pedestrians and vehicles and what the average person knows or understands about public safety. I did some research to satisfy my curiosity. I'm quoting here from a 2006 news release by the Minnesota Department of Transportation:  "When traffic control signals are not in place or in operation, a driver must stop when a pedestrian is in the crosswalk. In this type of situation, a driver can proceed once the pedestrian has completely crossed the lane in front of the stopped vehicle.

"When a vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk to permit a pedestrian to cross the roadway, the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass the stopped vehicle.

"A pedestrian must not enter a crosswalk if a vehicle is approaching. There is no defined distance but the pedestrian must use common safety sense. The law states: 'No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.'

"At crossings with traffic control signals, pedestrians shall be subject to obey the traffic signals.

"Pedestrians crossing a roadway at a point other than within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk shall yield the right of way to all vehicles on the roadway."

I was a little surprised at some of the information. I doubt most people are aware of all of the provisions of the law. And I was struck (no pun intended) by one aspect of what I learned: that a pedestrian must not enter a crosswalk if a vehicle is approaching and must use common safety sense. (If only common safety sense prevailed in our pedestrian and driving habits.)

I must admit, I've been guilty of making a mad dash across the street in front of approaching traffic, betting that I could make it before the cars and trucks were upon me. I was convinced of wings on my loafers, capable of assisting my run for the opposite sidewalk. I abandoned common safety sense for expedition. I can imagine the expletives hurled at me by drivers certain that I had lost my marbles.

Reading what MnDOT had to say was helpful. It will no doubt inform my decisions as both a driver and a pedestrian. I only wish that more members of the public would avail themselves of the knowledge. I'm reminded of the comedian Jackie "Moms" Mabley's advice to children about crossing the street: "Damn the lights, watch the cars. The lights ain't never killed nobody."

There's that common safety sense thing again. Of course it has to be combined with the correct application of the law for both pedestrians and vehicles. Otherwise, one could cross an intersection and be in the right while unaware of a furiously fast auto barreling down the street.  What good is it to be right if one is also dead?

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Akmed Khalifa holds degrees from Metropolitan State University, studied as an artist in residence at the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis, and is a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Hamline University.