SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali (right) and SF District Attorney George Gascón. Photo: Aaron Bialick
SF District Attorney George Gascón and SFPD Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali held a press conference last Thursday to bring attention to distracted driving, since April is officially National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
It’s promising to see law enforcement officials bring attention to this deadly and growing problem on San Francisco streets. What remains to be seen, however, is whether drivers who kill and maim others are being held accountable with thorough police crash investigations and prosecuted by the DA’s office when they’re at fault.
While SF stats on traffic crashes attributed to distracted driving aren’t available, the CA Highway Patrol says that nationally, it was a factor in 3,331 deaths and over 400,000 injuries in 2011. The Centers for Disease Control released a study last month finding that 68.7 percent of U.S. adult drivers (aged 18–64) admitted in surveys to talking on their cell phones while driving at least once in the past 30 days — far more than those in European countries. In the United Kingdom, only 20.5 percent said they had done so.
Gascón explained that data from the SF Municipal Transportation Agency shows that 60 percent of pedestrian injures in San Francisco take place in crosswalks, compared to 45 percent statewide, and 44 percent in New York City.
“Clearly, here, we’re having a much bigger problem. It’s a problem that’s impacting many lives,” said Gascón. “We’re having not only around 20 pedestrians that are being killed every year on our streets, we have well in excess of 700 pedestrians that are injured every year.” (The Department of Public Health puts the number of injuries closer to 900.)
“We need to work together to make sure we reduce the mayhem that is going on on our streets,” added Gascón.
Commander Ali said SFPD officers have beefed up enforcement against distracted driving throughout April, but that stats on violations and ticketing won’t be available until the end of the month.
Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe applauded Gascón and the SFPD “for cracking down on people that are endangering others by driving distracted.” Still, she said, “It’s hard to know if everyone’s been held to account for endangering, and in many cases, killing people walking.”
So far this year, seven pedestrians have been killed in San Francisco, and at least three of the drivers in those have been charged because they were either drunk or fleeing police. But in cases in which drivers were sober and stayed on the scene, like the crashes that killed Becky Lee, Tania Madfes, and Melissa Kitson, causes remain less clear, and there’s no word on whether those drivers face charges.
Streetsblog has a request in with the DA’s office for how many of this year’s pedestrian crash cases have been forwarded from the SFPD to the DA, but has yet to hear back. As we’ve reported, drivers rarely face charges for injuring pedestrians unless the victim dies and the driver was intoxicated or fled the scene.