We grew up learning that a pedestrian always has the right of way, but a Denver police officer apparently disagrees.
Kyle Wolfe was just five feet from the curb at 19th and Lawrence Streets in downtown Denver when his wheelchair was struck from behind by an SUV. He had legally ventured out into the intersection during a walk signal but was carrying several items that kept slipping off his lap, thus slowing him down as he crossed. The pedestrian signal changed after just 20 seconds, and before he knew it, he’d been hit — injured — and his wheelchair totaled.
The weirdest thing? When the Denver police showed up, they ticketed Wolfe — not the driver of the SUV — because of an apparent failure to cross the street in his wheelchair fast enough.
“I was very shocked that a pedestrian that has the right of way got a ticket,” Wolfe told Fox 31.
We were shocked, too — especially that a wheelchair-bound pedestrian was ticketed for taking more than 20 seconds to cross the street. So we dug into the Federal Highway Administration‘s best practices for crosswalk design and learned a few things:
The MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) standard identifies a ‘normal’ walking speed as 1.22 m/s (4 ft/s). However, research indicates that the majority of pedestrians walk at a speed that is slower than this and that 15 percent of pedestrians walk at speeds less than 1.065 m/s (3.5 ft/s) … The latter group includes a large proportion of people with ambulatory impairments and older adults,” the FHA’s website says.
The time of each intersection’s pedestrian signal is calculated based on the length of the crosswalk, divided by an expected crossing speed of 3.5 feet per second.
But “People who use wheelchairs are at a lower height than other pedestrians and may be more difficult for motorists to detect,” the site acknowledges. Also, “Both powered and manual wheelchair users on level or downhill slopes may travel faster than other pedestrians. But on uphill slopes, manual wheelchair users have slower travel speeds.”
The wording seems to imply that since the 3.5 feet per second is an average travel rate, it would be expected that sometimes pedestrians would fall below the average time for various reasons. Therefore, wouldn’t the law, too, be open to interpretation and common sense on the police officer’s part? And isn’t it always a driver’s responsibility to watch out for pedestrians?
“That is not fast enough for a handicap person to get across a cross walk,” Wolfe insisted.
He plans to go to court to fight the citation.
What do you think? Should the ticket be dropped? Have you heard of a situation like this before? Leave a comment below, and let’s get the conversation started!