SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Pretty much anywhere you drive on the Suncoast, you’ll be sharing the road with pedestrians and/or bicyclists. The warm weather allows for plenty of outdoor recreation and Florida attracts a high number of seniors, snowbirds and tourists.
But that cohabitation is fraught with accidents. One recent study named the area of North Port, Sarasota and Bradenton the fourth most dangerous metro area for walking in the entire county.
Laura Randall of Bradenton knows how quickly these accidents can happen.
“I didn’t see anything, until he was on my windshield," she said.
A man stepped right in front of her car. Florida law freed Randall of all liability because she wasn’t distracted and the suspected homeless man was intoxicated with a BAC nearly four times over the legal driving limit for alcohol when he walked across U.S. 41.
“I have stopped blaming myself," she said. "I know that as a result of an impact of a car that I was driving, someone is no longer alive.”
She’s intentional with her words, careful not to say that she killed him.
“Before I knew it, he stepped in front of my car and there was nothing I could do," said Randall. "I will never erase that night. So I encourage people to, it’s just an opportunity for us to look at both sides of any incident.”
Though many people think of drivers in these types of accidents, pedestrian safety should be shouldered by all parties - drivers and walkers. Randall says she’s among those drivers involved in accident who would have given anything to be able to stop in time.
“It happens and it could happen to anyone," she said.
And according to the Florida Highway Patrol, these crashes happen often here on the Suncoast.
In 2018, there were 317 crashes involving pedestrians in Sarasota and Manatee counties, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety. In just the first six months of this year, there were 163 crashes involving pedestrians.
“If you’re going the speed limit and you look down at your phone for a second and a half, you’ve traveled 133 feet,” said Trooper Kenn Watson.
That’s equal to the distance from one side of U.S. 301 to the other in downtown Sarasota. But that’s not something drivers or pedestrians think about.
The stretch of U.S. 301 between Fruitville and 10th Street is known for people running across without a crosswalk. Sarasota Police said in the last five years, 18 pedestrians have been hit on this stretch.
In the 20 minutes that ABC7 was there Thursday, 15 people darted out between cars to get to the other side. That reality led the City of Sarasota to launch a new vision called Sarasota in Motion this past September. It’s an 18-month effort to make city streets safer after a survey found that 61 percent of respondents cared most about ‘safer and more comfortable ability to cross streets.’
An interactive map allowed residents to pinpoint problem areas, many writing they don’t feel safe walking on U.S. 301 and U.S 41.
But as we saw for ourselves with people not crossing at crosswalks, it isn’t always an issue of drivers going too fast or not paying attention. If pedestrians would wait their turn, cross in the crosswalk and wear bright, reflective clothing, Trooper Watson said many crashes would be avoided.
“Make sure that you have that good situational awareness,” said Trooper Watson. "You want to look both ways before crossing and you want to make sure that you’re making eye contact with the operator of that motor vehicle.”
But though pedestrians need to do more to stay safe, drivers likewise need to do the same.
Melissa Wandall, a Manatee County resident, lost her husband in 2003 when a driver ran a red light.
“When he walked out the door he said, ‘I love you Melis, and I’m gonna miss you,’" Wandall remembered. "I said I love you too, but I’m gonna see you in just a couple of hours. Unfortunately, I received that phone call that you don’t want to receive, especially when you’re nine months pregnant.”
Wandall decided to do all she can to prevent any other spouse from getting that call. She was instrumental in the campaign to bring red light cameras to Florida and now she’s an ambassador for Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow, a Florida Department of Transportation Coalition educating pedestrians and drivers.
“We have to remember not long ago, a little boy lost his life, right?" Wandall said about Roman Miller in Sarasota. "Not long ago a young teenager was struck by somebody not paying attention to the school bus arm. We have to remember those things and carry them forward.”
Both Wandall and Randall are sharing their messages to get both sides - drivers and pedestrians - to pay closer attention.
“I appreciate life more because I know how fragile it is,” Randall said.