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Graphic accident video part of new Florida DOT safety campaign

TAMPA — The video footage of street carnage comes with an "unsuitable for small children" warning.

A pedestrian on a cell phone sails across the hood of a car. A speeding vehicle slams into a man strolling through a crosswalk. A cyclist appears out of nowhere — and gets smacked by a car.

These clips, all real accidents culled from the Internet, aren't on truTV. They're on a new Florida Department of Transportation website, part of a campaign aimed at reducing the high number of bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities in Tampa Bay.

The goal is to reduce pedestrian deaths in the Tampa Bay region by 20 percent in three years.

"In the past a lot of our campaigns have been very vanilla," said Kris Carson, a department spokeswoman. "We wanted to catch someone's attention."

Using $125,000, the state hired Ybor City ad firm Dunn & Co., which came up with SeeTheBlindSpots.com as well as the television and radio campaign starting this week.

Florida leads the nation in bicycling and pedestrian fatalities. And the Tampa Bay area is one of the worst in Florida. In 2009, the region averaged seven pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities a month.

Just last week, when the website made its debut, a 21-year-old pedestrian was struck and killed by a vehicle while crossing Fletcher Avenue shortly before 4 a.m.

"We wanted to make sure that when people came to the site, it was something very real," said Glen Hosking, the firm's associate creative director. "'Wow, this could be me — on either side of that story. Either behind the wheel, or on top of the hood."

SeeTheBlindSpots.com features safety tips for bicyclists and pedestrians, crash data and images that use trains, tanks and elephants to represent how much damage cars can do to pedestrians.

The campaign had its critics even before it launched. Earlier this year, the firm came up with the working theme of "You vs. Vehicle: You lose every time."

That leaked out to the bicycling community, some of whom felt the campaign put all the blame on them.

Those critics say the final product isn't much better.

"It looks like ad executives surfed the Internet and found some scary footage," said Tim Bustos, executive director of the Florida Bicycle Association. "I think if anything cyclists are more likely going to that site than motorists … and it'll scare the heck out of them."

J. Steele Olmstead, a Tampa lawyer whose accident clients include bicyclists, said the focus should be on impaired and distracted drivers. He called the campaign "fatuous."

"What's the greater percentages of people using the roads? Motorists, so that should be the No. 1 target," he said. "Why would we being going after the smallest segment of the people to blame in these accidents?"

Hosking said the campaign tries to target everyone. He said there also are complicated demographics at work, including the intoxicated pedestrians or cyclists who walk into traffic, or those who walk or ride at night and don't know the road rules.

"There's a difference between the people who are avid cyclists and spend a lot of time and money on their pursuit and the others riding bicycles because they don't have any other means of transportation," he said.

In addition to the video, the Florida Department of Transportation is spending $430,000 it got from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to pay for overtime for law enforcement officers to focus just on pedestrian safety.

The state also is spending $2 million on "high intensity pavement markings," which includes making sure crosswalks are visible, Carson said.

Brian Eckman, owner of Carrollwood Bicycle Emporium, took a look at the new website the other day. He said he thought the video footage was over-the-top — and seemed designed to scare cyclists and pedestrians more than motorists.

But he said the thought the overall message that everybody has to look out is good.

He cringes when he sees people riding bikes without helmets, and without bright colors so motorists can seem them at night.

Not long ago, he said he was driving a 4-mile stretch in the Carrollwood area. It was night. He counted seven people riding their bikes in dark clothes.

Then again, he said, there was the customer of his, an experienced cyclist, who was recently riding her bicycle in San Antonio in Pasco County.

She put up her left arm to indicate she was turning left. But the motorist behind her drove right into her, believing she was waving him around. She ended up with a broken collarbone.

Reach Jodie Tillman at jtillman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.

An image from the Florida Department of Transportation’s new video shows a pedestrian about to be hit by a car.

Florida Department of Transportation

An image from the Florida Department of Transportation’s new video shows a pedestrian about to be hit by a car.

.By the numbers

Bay area traffic safety

Learn more about the state's new pedestrian and bike safety campaign at SeeTheBlindSpots.com.

Below are numbers for 2009 in the Tampa Bay region (Florida Department of Transportation's District 7):

76 pedestrian fatalities, which represented more than 20 percent of all roadway fatalities.

94 percent of the pedestrians were crossing the roadway — mostly at locations without signals.

65 percent of pedestrian fatalities occurred between 6 p.m. and midnight, a six-hour window.

34 percent of pedestrians killed were under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

50/50 Motorists and bicyclists split blame in all bike vs. car accidents.

61 percent of the time, motorists were to blame in serious and fatal bike vs. car accidents.

Sources: Florida Department of Transportation and SeeTheBlindSpots.com

Graphic accident video part of new Florida DOT safety campaign 11/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 11, 2011 10:26pm]
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