With a month to go in 2012, Richmond County has already seen the most pedestrian deaths in the past decade.
More than one-fourth of the 36 fatalities on Richmond County roads this year have involved pedestrians, according to records from the city’s Traffic Engineering department.
Since 2002, 55 pedestrians and six bicyclists have died after being hit by automobiles.
This year, 10 of the 116 pedestrians who were hit have died, including William Bernard Smith, 21, of Augusta, who died Saturday after being hit by a vehicle Nov. 20 on Windsor Spring Road at Winston Way, authorities said.
“It’s a very serious issue when you have a pedestrian challenging a 3,000-pound automobile,” sheriff’s Capt. Scott Gay said.
Deputies said pedestrians are becoming more daring and fatalities are climbing.
Two deaths occurred in November, when pedestrians tried to cross two of the busiest roads in the county.
Heather Floyd, 34, died in the 2800 block of Washington Road on Nov. 4. Four days later, Brian Boings, 27, died in the 3700 block of Mike Padgett Highway. Both pedestrians were found at fault.
Some of the largest and busiest roads are also where deputies say they see the most risk-taking; they cited Gordon Highway and Washington, Peach Orchard and Deans Bridge roads as dangerous for crossing pedestrians.
“They have this belief that they have the right of way,” traffic engineer Dennis Ellis said.
Impatience and unfamiliarity with the laws are two common reasons for pedestrian-related accidents, authorities say.
Gay said it is a common misconception that a pedestrian always has the right of way. The law states that a pedestrian has the right of way only in a crosswalk.
Crossing in the dark or wearing dark clothing decreases the chance a motorist can avoid a potentially deadly accident.
“The driver of the vehicle doesn’t even have the opportunity to see the pedestrian,” Gay said.
Gay said he hopes to reverse the dangerous practices by spreading awareness and educating the public.
Ellis said that traffic engineers are constantly making improvements to crosswalks to ensure the safety of pedestrians but that if pedestrians refuse to use them, such efforts are in vain.
“We’re being much more aggressive with ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) sidewalks,” Ellis said.
The first thing Ellis looks at when plans come across his desk are whether the sidewalk designs ensure overall safety and whether the effort meets ADA requirements, he said. New sidewalks and crosswalks with flashing lights and speaker boxes are not persuading people to use them, however.
Gay said most injured pedestrians didn’t cross at crosswalks. One fatal accident in which the pedestrian had the right of way, however, was the March 2008 death of a 29-year-old Medical College of Georgia graduate student.
The area where Dr. Ji Cheng was hit by a bus at 15th Street and Laney-Walker Boulevard is one of the areas that will soon see improved safety measures for pedestrians.
“It’s a big project and a big pedestrian improvement,” traffic engineer Steve Cassell said of the project, which will narrow the road and raise sidewalks.