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Want To Avoid Getting Hit By Drivers In LA? LAPD Says To Try 'Defensive Walking'

Los Angeles Police Department Michel Moore announced a new pedestrian safety initiative in which officers will hand out roughly 1,200 reflective vests and 700 wearable lights. (Courtesy LAPD via Twitter)
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Late last month, the Los Angeles Police Department announced its new Pedestrian Safety Initiative, which gives officers new responsibilities to talk to pedestrians about safety issues and offer free reflective vests or wearable LED lights in place of a traffic ticket.

The department is working with State Farm to hand out roughly 1,200 vests and 700 lights in an effort to reduce pedestrian deaths on city streets, which are among the deadliest in the nation.

Authorities also gave recent traffic fatality statistics, saying 200 people have been killed in traffic collisions in the city so far this year. Of those fatal collisions, 107 involved pedestrians and half of those deaths were "individuals that are outside crosswalks," according to LAPD Chief Michel Moore.

Speaking at a press conference on Nov. 28, Moore said the vests will "give a fighting chance for (pedestrians) to be seen and observed and to protect themselves," especially when walking at night.

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"We have defensive driving, there's defensive walking as well," he said.

But local street safety advocates are blasting the plan as disappointing and absurd, saying police are focusing on changing victim's behavior when it's safer driving and better infrastructure that will save lives.

"Drivers have the power to do the most harm, and drivers have the greatest responsibility to protect the human life around them," said Emilia Crotty, executive director of Los Angeles Walks, told LAist. "The city, including LAPD, needs to remind people of this every opportunity it gets."

(Courtesy Vision Zero Los Angeles)

Pedestrians are involved in 8 percent of traffic collisions in L.A., but account for nearly 45 percent of all traffic deaths annually, according to city data.

The LAPD program is a "band-aid solution," according to Jessica Meaney, executive director of Investing in Place, a nonprofit that advocates for safe communities. She said the best way to reduce deaths on L.A.'s streets is to change infrastructure, especially in the city's underserved communities, where the city acknowledges pedestrians are disproportionately killed in traffic crashes.

That means investments like improved street lighting and mid-walk crossings in communities where people walk and bike at higher rates. Crotty also argued that the term "jaywalking" shouldn't be used to describe victims, especially given its history as a campaign by car manufacturers to shame pedestrians and take over streets.

"If someone is 'jaywalking' or 'outside crosswalks' according to the LAPD, chances are good there should be a protected crosswalk there," she said. LAPD Traffic Division officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The city's Vision Zero initiative does prioritize infrastructure improvements as a way to reduce traffic deaths and emphasizes that reducing vehicle speed "is fundamental to safer streets."

And it's looking like 2018 will have fewer traffic deaths than the previous year, when 245 fatalities were reported, according to the city. An estimated 134 of those victims were pedestrians. But for advocates like Meaney and Crotty, the police initiative represents a step in the wrong direction.

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"The best way to save people's live is to reduce the speed limit," Meaney said. "(I'm) not sure how wearing a yellow vest does that."

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