New law aimed at giving pedestrians greater protection

In transit

As a driver, have you ever coasted through a crosswalk without realizing it was a crosswalk? As a pedestrian, have you ever been annoyed waiting at a crosswalk for cars to stop?

I've experienced both situations, which is why House Bill 43 caught my interest. The proposal passed the Illinois House and could come before the Senate this week.

Spearheaded by the Active Transportation Alliance, the policy mandates drivers stop at crosswalks. Currently, the law says drivers should yield the right of way by slowing or stopping if necessary, which leads to ambiguity and accidents, ATA officials said.

Compared to other states, Illinois' pedestrian crash rate is dangerously high with more than 6,000 people hit in crosswalk accidents a year, the ATA's Dan Persky said. That translates into 1,000 serious injuries and 170 fatalities. A disproportionate number of those hit are children, Persky added. Changing the law will save lives, the ATA contends.

The policy is backed by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. "We feel it's a common-sense approach," association legislative representative Limey Nargelenas said. "We think the original law dealt with expediting traffic flow rather than safety for pedestrians."

But one suburban senator has some reservations. Sen. John Millner, a Carol Stream Republican and former police chief, says he'd be more comfortable if the law required signs be posted at crosswalks warning vehicles to stop.

Educating motorists will take time, and Millner worries pedestrians and bikers who sally forth will risk being hit by drivers oblivious to any changes.

"I like the concept, but I want signs to go up before it goes any further," Millner said.

Stay tuned.

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