Montgomery County officials on Thursday urged drivers and pedestrians in parking lots this holiday season to stay aware of their surroundings after a significant spike in the number of collisions in lots and garages.
The county attributed an overall increase of pedestrian collisions in 2012 to 121 collisions in parking lots and garages, a bump of 31 parking lot/garage collisions compared to 2011. The parking lot and garage collisions made up 29 percent of the 423 total collisions in 2012.
County Executive Isiah Leggett said the county has seen a 50 percent increase over the last five years in parking lot pedestrian collisions and about a third of the collisions resulted in debilitating injuries.
“Our assumption in the past is that we are safe in parking lots,” Leggett said. “As a result of that, we have more collisions and challenges than we had anticipated.”
Leggett was joined by Police Chief Thomas Manger, Fire Chief Steven Lohr, and representatives from major shopping developments for a press conference to introduce the “Heads Up In Parking Lots” educational campaign.
A palm card features a photo of a distracted pedestrian looking at his phone, though officials say 75 percent of the of the 175 parking lot collisions in 2012 were deemed to be the driver’s fault.
The county will put the ads on Ride On buses, in county facilities and has released a pair of public service announcements. One of the reasons for the heavy focus on the educational campaign is because police can’t enforce the laws by issuing citations in privately owned shopping center lots.
Manger said 83 percent of the collisions in 2012 happened in privately owned lots or garages.
“We don’t have the enforcement tool. We’re at a bigger disadvantage in a parking lot,” Manger said. “It’s important for us to focus on prevention and it’s important for us to focus on awareness and education.”
The county provided a detailed breakdown of how and when the 2012 parking lot collisions happened. Officials said they were surprised to find that 18 percent of the parking lot collisions resulted in incapacitating injuries and 54 percent resulted in some type of injury.
In June, an 81-year-old Potomac woman died after being hit by a car in front of the Giant grocery store in the Cabin John Shopping Center. In July, a driver hit someone in the parking lot of the Sam’s Club in Gaithersburg before plowing into the building and injuring two more people. One of the victims needed an amputation.
“Slow down and look around. You have to be seen to be safe,” Lohr said. “Whether it’s from distracted drivers or your own clothing, having visibility is a very important point here.”
Manger said the number of parking lot pedestrian collisions typically spikes in the holiday season, when shopping mall lots are full and the days get shorter.
Most (31 percent) of the 2012 parking lot collisions happened as a result of a driver backing out of a parking spot, 26 percent happened with a vehicle driving in a parking lane, 13 percent happened at the entrance or exit to a lot and 12 percent happened when a vehicle was turning.
The majority of the collisions happen at peak times for shopping malls: at lunch around noon, after work around 6 p.m. and then early in the morning around 7 p.m.
“People are driving distracted,” Manger said. “They are backing out of a parking space too quickly. They are not looking if someone is walking.”