The number of accidents where pedestrians are struck by vehicles in parking lots are on the rise in Montgomery County, so much so that the county is spending $50,000 on a parking lot safety program this year.
According to an analysis released Aug. 5 by AAA Mid-Atlantic, almost 30 percent of pedestrian accidents in the county in 2012 occurred in parking lots. That number is “a jump” from 16 percent in 2010, county spokesperson Esther Bowring said.
The 121 pedestrian accidents that took place in parking lots or garages in the county in 2012, out of a total of more than 400 accidents involving pedestrians, have worried county officials.
Bowring said a county task force is working to find out why the number of incidents have increased. The county council has dedicated $50,000 to a pedestrian parking lot safety program this year, she said. An internal group with representatives from county departments and agencies are sharing information and considering ways to educate the public about the issue, she said.
Jeff Dunckel, Pedestrian Safety Coordinator for the county’s transportation department, said distracted driving and “distracted walking,” pedestrians who are talking or texting on their phones, could be factors.
One of the most recent major pedestrian accidents in a parking lot occurred when a North Potomac resident drove through the parking lot of a Sam’s Club store on North Frederick Avenue in Gaithersburg, crashing through the store’s emergency exit doors. The car hit two pedestrians in the parking lot and one inside the store, according to county police. Officials are still investigating the July 23 incident. Montgomery County police spokesperson Angela Cruz said no charges had been filed as of Aug. 16.
Bowring said the county’s statistics on pedestrian accidents may be following a wider trend.
“Nationally, there has been this recent trend upwards in pedestrian collisions,” she said.
According to a Aug. 5 press release from the U.S. Department of Transportation, pedestrian fatalities have increased about 8 percent between 2009 and 2011, with a total of 4,432 pedestrians killed after being struck by vehicles in 2011.
Montgomery County police conducted pedestrian safety “stings” around the county earlier this year, stopping hundreds of vehicles and issuing warnings and citations for drivers who didn’t yield to pedestrians or stop at marked stop sign lines.
The enforcement of parking lot safety has presented challenges for local officials. According to a CountyStat presentation dated May 8, county police and the Department of Transportation “do not have jurisdiction to implement enforcement and engineering methods which they would normally use in county-owned roadways.”
“They are restricted to education efforts and rely significantly on business owners and developers to address engineering and enforcement,” according to the presentation.
Dunckel said the county’s targeted education and enforcement efforts at ten high-incident intersections in the county have helped bring down the number of pedestrian accidents at those locations, but they are still working on a solution that could bring down the number of parking lot accidents.
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