Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pedestrian crosswalk, so what’s that?

Another major pedestrian tragedy occurred near Rome’s Fiumicino airport the other day: a driver who was travelling at some 190 km/hr mowed down 5 girls and women, killing all of them. Under the former Berlusconi government, a new form of deducing points from one’s driver’s licence was implemented. At first, it appeared to have had a resounding success. All Italian drivers basically started out with 20 points. Infractions varied according to the severity of the infraction, say 5 points for driving without your seatbelt or 10 for talking on your cell phone. Well, in true Italian fashion, that program has now failed as the “shock” effect has worn out and Italians are back to their usual (bad) driving habits (my cousin the other day in his two-door BMW was travelling at the “modest” speed of 180 km/hr on the highway in order to get home for dinner!). Italians blatantly still drive while talking on their cell phones, sometimes right under the noses of traffic cops!

The latest stats say that out of the 60 pedestrians that are injured DAILY in Italy as they cross the street, 2 die. That’s quite the percentage of deaths. But in 2008 we all know (at least those who live in Italy like yours truly) that Italians STILL don’t know what pedestrian crosswalks are or for what they’re intended for. In the small and quiet town of Udine, few Italian drivers will stop to let pedestrians cross the street. Quite the opposite of what I witnessed in Munich in 2004, my first-ever visit to the splendid country of Germany: 90% of German motorists would stop as I would go to cross the intersection. And what to say about the dirty looks you got from Munich bikers if you accidentally walked on their bike paths! Drivers in most “civilised” countries, like the UK, will act exactly in the same way as Munich drivers.

Jay-walking infractions in Italy? “Now what’s that”? will the average Italian ask you (in 1999 as I was Italy’s interpreter at the splendid Women’s World Cup held in the US, we were in Santa Monica one night playing pool in a bar. As we headed back to the car to go back to LA, I decided to cross in the middle of the street to head for the car park. My LA chaperon stopped me and said, “You have to cross at the lights otherwise the cops will fine you for jay-walking”! I laughed as my immediate thought went to the zillion of jay-walkers in Naples!!!).

I still recall one golden rule that teachers would tell us while going to school as a kid in Canada: “Remember children, look BOTH ways when crossing the street”! They would also teach us that when sidewalks were missing we should walk FACING traffic, another golden rule which is often lacking in Italy.

With such catastrophic accidents on a weekly basis in Italy, involving both drivers and pedestrians, I often ask myself: “But what on earth do they (or don’t they) teach in Italian schools”?