Eye of the Driver

By Kim Dooley Kittay

Looking Both Ways is Not Enough

Approximately 4,000 New Yorkers are seriously injured and more than 250 are killed each year in traffic crashes.

Being struck by a vehicle is the leading cause of injury-related death for children under 14, and the second leading cause for seniors.

On average, vehicles seriously injure or kill a New Yorker every two hours.

Source: Vision Zero at NYC.gov

I don’t know when I got so crazy about crossing streets safely.  I grew up in Manhattan and wandered around blissfully unaware, listening to the Go-Gos on my Sony Walkman.  But, as with so many other things, it all changed when I had kids.  Then, I was in charge of making sure they learned how to cross the street safely, and every car became a potential menace.

I would extol the tenets of pedestrian safety to my kids as we crossed the streets, their little hands tightly gripped by mine . . .

“Look both ways before you cross the street.”

“Wait for the walk sign before you go.”

“Cross only at the crosswalk.”

But, a few years ago, I started to realize that the basics weren’t enough.  That there was one big area of pedestrian safety that no one was talking about, and it was killing people:  Turning cars don’t yield to pedestrians.

On February 28, 2013, six-year-old Amar Diarrassouba was walking to his East Harlem school with his older brother and was killed by a truck that turned into the crosswalk.  

On January 10, 2014, nine-year-old Cooper Stock was returning home from dinner with his Dad on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and was killed by a turning taxi.  In both these cases, the children were doing nothing wrong—they were crossing “with the light.”  Cooper was even holding his father’s hand.

You see, that taxi driver and that truck driver ALSO had the light.  In both cases, the drivers were charged with “failure to yield” and “failure to exercise due care.”  Unfortunately, Amar and Cooper are just two of many who have been victims of these types of crashes.  The streets of New York City were not designed with pedestrian safety in mind, and traffic laws alone do not solve the problem.

So, pedestrians need an extra level of vigilance when it comes to turning cars.  If you are crossing a street and there is a possibility of a turning car, you have to look behind you to know if it is safe to cross.  Not left, not right – behind you.  And, if there is a turning car, you cannot assume that the driver has seen you, unless the car has come to a full stop.  Then, and only then, is it safe to cross.

My friend, Natasha Glasser, put it best: “You are entering into a social contract every time you enter a crosswalk.”  A contract takes two people, a meeting of the minds, the lawyers say.  Yes, we all know that pedestrians have the right of way.  But, what if the driver is in a rush and thinks he can squeeze in front of you?  What if she doesn’t see you or is distracted by a phone or the radio or her kid in the back seat?  You can’t assume a turning car will stop for you, until it does.  So, you have to look for turning cars, and wait for them to stop.

I started saying to my kids, “You have to catch the eye of the driver before you walk across, to make sure he sees you.”  It eventually got shortened to “eye of the driver boys, eye of the driver,” as we crossed.  One day, my youngest son, Ezra, started singing “Eye of the Driver” to the theme song from Rocky (“Eye of the Tiger”).  My other kids loved it.  They kept singing the tune, a favorite of theirs, and it stuck.  I didn’t have to remind them so much anymore.

So, the kids came up with some lyrics (helped immensely by my friend Natasha), and shot a video!  They had a great time making it, and we all hope that it helps people be safer as they cross the street!

Video on YouTube: http://bit.ly/1RmvZDm