College Park Pedestrian Crash Deaths Require a Change to Route One and Student Behavior

Anyone who has cruised through downtown College Park on a Saturday night knows that Route One is awash in area college students and that their observance of traffic laws is shall we say, inhibited. Simultaneously vehicles traverse Route One, a major D.C. traffic artery and the East coast's longest local road.

The mix has proven deadly for years and two tragic recent pedestrian-vehicle crashes have led to outcry and vague suggestions of changes. WTOP.com features a fine piece today recounting the two most recent fatalities and recycling area politicians alluding to changes in lighting, traffic patterns, and community attention.http://www.wtop.com/58/3603071/2nd-death-at-College-Park-intersection-prompts-calls-for-change

Of course, both partners at Clark and Steinhorn attended the University of Maryland at College Park and have heard the hue and cry before with little effect. We always see that the deceased pedestrian was "crossing against the light" or "not in the crosswalk" as though such conduct was unexpected. In fact even the casual observer sees this pedestrian conduct over and over again.

Regressive Maryland personal injury laws ensure that neither the drivers nor the City of College Park can be successfully sued for negligent driving behavior or negligent design or maintenance of the roadway and so there is no "big stick" to change this vicious cycle.

Okay Mr. Laurel Lawyer what would you suggest?

The answer is many things. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration advocates strongly for "traffic calming zones" and that certainly would be a significant first step. The speed cameras North of campus on Route One may be money makers for the City of College Park or Prince George's County but a multitude of them coming out of Hyattsville and into the University Park area would slow down knowledgeable area drivers and commuters and serve to automatically slow down the traffic flow coming into the "death zone" in downtown College Park.

Doubtless regular users of Route One will dislike this but the road is already routinely overflowing with traffic and when it is not ( ie. after 9pm when these deadly crashes mostly appear to occur) the locals will slow down the speeders and even the law-abiding drivers who have the sad encounters with pedestrians, will slacken the pace of traffic.

Huge flashing signs, alerting drivers to their imminent encounter with a multitude of crosswalk-challenged students, speed bumps and perhaps a roundabout or two ( Circles to Washingtonians) would slow things down a lot and put drivers on notice that their obligation to yield to pedestrians is absolute.

That is perhaps one of the more frustrating legal aspects of this. Maryland's regressive "Contributory Negligence" doctrine recently and foolishly upheld by the Maryland Court of Appeals, shifts the blame to the students and not the drivers bearing down on them, in one, two and multi- ton machines at high rates of speed.

Contributory negligence stands for the principle that even if the driver is 99% at fault, the 1% negligence of the pedestrian means that the pedestrian or their distraught family left behind gets NOTHING! Maryland is one of a handful of jurisdictions that retains contributory negligence and it is an abomination that reduces public safety and lines the pockets of the insurance industry.

More expensive but more effective solutions would include a Route 1 underpass for either vehicles or students or an overpass for pedestrians. The overpass would be high because of trucks using the road but something has to change. More of a police presence on a regular basis would likely reduce fatalities somewhat but the fundamental issue is that one of the nation's busiest roads bisects our state flagship university.

The City of College Park, the University of Maryland, Prince George's County and the State of Maryland know that as long as the status quo remains students will die. It has been so as long as I've been going to College Park (40 years) and will remain so until fatuous talk abates and action takes place.

Our hearts go out to the families of the young people whose lives were cut short. Hopefully, County Councilman Eric Olsen will accomplish what his elective predecessors have failed to, make meaningful changes that save lives and reduce personal injuries in College Park.

It is an indisputable fact that thousands of kids everyday will cross Route 1 in College Park against the traffic light and outside crosswalks. The overwhelming majority will do so over and over again safely but our community and societal duty is to protect our children.If we know Route 1 in its present state is a guaranteed killer it needs to change immediately.