I dropped off my friend one day at her house after taking her to an appointment. A few hours later, she called me in a state of panic. Law enforcement and emergency personnel were responding to an accident down the street from the home she shares with her husband and three children.
Her youngest child had not returned home after leaving to exercise at a nearby gym. Her oldest child soon reported that he saw his brother’s backpack lying in the vicinity of the accident.
Later that day, sheriff’s deputies arrived at their doorstep to inform the family that their son and brother, Wyatt Savaikie, was dead. He had stepped off the curb into the crosswalk when the signal indicated that it was safe to do so.
But it wasn’t safe. A truck traveling 19 mph over the posted speed limit had shot through a red light, slamming the boy into a power pole.
Our local roads are not safe. They don’t even feel safe. You know it as you watch an elderly citizen with a walker trying to cross the street. Or a mother pushing a stroller with a toddler in tow as she tries to cross a six- or eight-lane thoroughfare. You can sense it as you drive past a cyclist. And you feel it intensely if you are the one on the bicycle.
Incidents of traffic-related injuries and fatalities in Santa Clarita are increasing. This demands immediate study and the aggressive pursuit of solutions. Just doing better than the state average on collision rates is not acceptable.
Three months before the Savaikie tragedy, Santa Clarita had canceled its red-light camera program, which automatically took photos of car licenses and drivers’ faces as they ran red lights and submitted them for ticket-writing consideration. According to a Daily News article, the city’s analysis demonstrated that the use of red-light cameras had resulted in “a 67 percent reduction in the average number of yearly collisions caused by red-light running.”
The Santa Clarita City Council chose to end a successful safety program based on a lack of financial viability and likely pressure from some members of the public.
In response to Wyatt’s death and other pedestrian fatalities, the city launched a half-baked program called “Drive. Focus. Live.” Though the city’s plan focuses on what they are calling the three E’s — enforcement, engineering and education — the website barely addresses enforcement or engineering.
Santa Clarita says it will roll out targeted enforcement on major roadways and community discussions some time in the future. Meanwhile, the site asks high school students to sign a responsible-driving pledge. But there is no mention of the many adults we’ve all seen running stop signs and red lights, talking on their cell phones and tailgating.
The website includes statistics about bad driving behaviors. But here are some stats you won’t find there. When hit by a car at 20 miles per hour, a pedestrian or bicyclist has an 80 percent chance of surviving. At a speed of 30 mph, that person has a 40 percent chance of survival; and, at 40 mph, that person has a 10 percent chance of survival.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that speed-related crashes result in an estimated $52 billion in economic losses nationwide each year. And the personal toll to the families and friends of those lost is incalculable. These are sobering numbers. Yet they don’t seem to result in measurable behavioral changes.
It’s time to invest our energy in finding lasting solutions.
Vision Zero is a national strategy to end all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, and to increase safe, healthy, and fair mobility for all. The vision is to move beyond accepting traffic deaths and severe injuries as a part of modern life – to acknowledge that these are actually preventable.
Vision Zero deals with roadway design, speeds, enforcement, behaviors, technology and policies. The approach calls for multidisciplinary collaboration among traffic planners, engineers, law enforcement, policymakers, public health professionals and the public.
Vision Zero is not a one-size-fits-all program. It offers guidance in best practices and proven strategies that can be adopted by municipalities. It includes strategies such as lowering speed limits, redesigning streets, implementing behavior change campaigns, and enhancing data-driven traffic enforcement.
Some may object to the recommended use of red-light cameras to track intersections or Automated Speed Enforcement (ASE).
But it’s a good place to begin a community discussion.
We need a solid commitment from our city leaders, right now, to work toward the elimination of traffic injuries and fatalities.
Increased public awareness and more responsible driving behaviors are only part of the equation.
Equally important are roadway design, signage and operations, along with consistent and effective enforcement measures.
Changing the environment will affect the way in which we behave in that environment. So a comprehensive approach is the best way to create a community in which people feel safe enough to walk and cycle, even as we promote the economic well-being of our community.
The Savaikie family and too many others like them have received a message that their losses are an unavoidable cost of living in a growing city. I don’t accept that, and you shouldn’t either. You or your loved one could be the next fatality.
Diane Trautman is a Saugus resident. The Advocates of SCV goal is to bring together civic-minded individuals who will advocate on issues important to the Santa Clarita Valley and to expand community awareness and citizen involvement.