Our View: Pedestrian safety is a priority

The damage that can be done to the human body when it is hit by a moving vehicle can be catastrophic.

The most tragic result of a vehicle-versus-pedestrian crash can be death, but even those who are fortunate enough to survive the trauma can be left suffering from chronic pain or a permanent physical disability.

If a driver who hits a pedestrian is not drunk or under the influence in some other way, they may not face any more sanction than a traffic citation.

Take the example of a March crash outside the McHenry Home Depot store, where William Dammeyer, 71, of Johnsburg, was struck and killed by a pickup truck driven by 19-year-old Christian J. Zientko of McHenry.

McHenry police cited the driver for failure to stop at a stop sign. Although officials have said publicly that the investigation is closed, the police have refused to release details about what witnesses said they saw that day.

Any crash in which driver negligence causes the death of another seems like it ought to command a more serious response from the justice system than a simple traffic ticket.

At least drivers who are found to be at fault in a crash where a pedestrian in a crosswalk is killed can have their license suspended for a year by the Secretary of State.

That’s not the case if the pedestrian survived but suffered a “Type A” injury, which the state defines as severe “wounds, distorted extremities, and injuries that require the injured party to be carried from the scene.” A person could be left suffering from chronic pain or lasting disability, and outside of a potential lawsuit, the driver would face no sanction.

A new law signed in August by Gov. JB Pritzker will close that loophole in July.

Dubbed Mason’s Law, it now allows the Secretary of State to invoke a one-year suspension on a driver who hits and seriously injures a pedestrian either in a crosswalk or a school zone.

State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, was the bill's chief sponsor in the Senate.

“This new law will help make sure that pedestrians can cross the streets safely, and that people who endanger the lives of pedestrians, especially children, are held accountable,” Barickman said.

Accidents can happen on the road, but among the basics we learn in driver education is to always give the right of way to pedestrians and to drive carefully in areas with a lot of people on foot – including parking lots, city streets and school zones.

There should be penalties beyond a simple fine and a moving violation for drivers whose carelessness is found not only to kill someone, but also to seriously injure them, as well.