If you’re like many New Yorkers, you’ve likely noticed the various cameras installed on busy streets in an attempt to identify and fine speeding drivers. With the quick flash of a camera light, a speeding car’s license plates are photographed and a summons is mailed home to the offender. You’ve also likely heard complaint after complaint about the cameras’ existence, such as, “It’s all for the city to find ways to get extra money.” These speeding cameras do, in fact, require the speeding drivers to pay a fine, but they are actually there to save lives.
When we were kids, we learned to “cross on the green and not in between” and by following this rhythmic verse, we were supposed to be safe on the city streets. Drivers cannot always see people darting out into the middle of the street, but that is not the way many people end up getting hit by cars. Countless pedestrians wait for the green light, look both ways, and proceed to walk across the street while obeying all traffic rules and are hit when cars turn on them. In the first three months of this year, 19 pedestrians were killed by cars while crossing the street.
There is no doubt that drivers have become more aggressive. Just ask any parent, or even better, crossing guard, outside any city school during morning school drop-off. I see it at my son’s school, which is located on an otherwise quiet block fully monitored by competent and caring crossing guards (this is not a given, trust me). Between 7:45 and 8:10 am, the cars are sharply turning, zooming past double parkers, and often driving recklessly. You would think people would be more careful outside a school when hundreds of kids are out in the streets, but it seem that they are just angrier and in a hurry, as is evident by their non-compliance to even stop or slow down, not to mention their gestures and rants. Some cars do not even stop for crossing guards who are poised out in the streets risking their own lives. (A parent turned the corner of the school this past week while staring down at her phone, and nearly ran right over our crossing guard.) Once the kids get into school, the traffic drops dramatically, although you will always find incompetent drivers no matter what time it is.
A few years ago, my son and I were hit while crossing the street. Thankfully, while we suffered injuries, we are still here. I can’t explain the horror of watching your 7 year old go down face first on the concrete. It’s something I have replayed in my head way too many times. We were across the street from my home. My son had just gotten off the school bus and we crossed while other kids and moms crossed at the opposite corner. This busy corner has an elementary school on it and everyday, the cars trying to get to the Belt Parkway turn haphazardly onto people trying to cross the street with the green light. Residents here advised (after the fact) to not even cross at the corner; but rather walk up to the next street and cross, where there are not as many drivers turning to get down to the highway. Now keep in mind, the highway is a good five blocks or so down from me, so they will still encounter various lights before then. Still, they are in a hurry.
As a result of this, I am hyper vigilant every single time I cross the street. A day does not go by that I don’t see a driver get “this close” to a pedestrian crossing, or zoom through a red light when the pedestrian has already received the green light to walk. I have drilled into my kids’ heads the need to wait for the green, but then look around. Do not ever blindly step out just because you get a green light. Long before kids learn defensive driving, they must learn defensive walking. And the last time I remember, pedestrians had the right of way, but that just does not happen anymore.
Could it be that besides just really bad drivers, of which there are many, our self-obsessed culture has infiltrated nearly every aspect of life? People are less willing to wait, less likely to empathize for the other person, and everything has to happen now. So I welcome the speed cameras. If they cause people to slow down and pay attention I’m all for it. We wouldn’t need them if people acted responsibly behind the wheel, and they can help save lives.
Danielle Sullivan, a mom of three, is a writer and editor living in New York City. Sullivan also writes about pets and parenting for Disney’s Babbl