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On the day after Christmas in 2018, I was hit by a distracted driver while walking in a marked crosswalk in South Park.
No one should have to risk death or serious injury by simply walking across the street, which is why it is imperative that San Diego prioritizes safe streets as it begins the annual budgeting process.
The crash, which was captured on video (warning: the video is graphic), was in broad daylight while I was leaving the bar and restaurant where I am a co-owner. I was struck in the leg and upper body and thrown about five feet, sliding on the asphalt once I hit the ground. The woman who hit me did not stop.
I’m sharing my story to raise awareness for what can result from a moment of distracted driving. I am a longtime resident, a business owner and a member of the city’s Planning Commission. My hope is that my own experience can raise awareness about safe driving to prevent traffic injuries and deaths.
As I lay on the ground unconscious, people rushed to render aid. I was bleeding profusely from my mouth, my upper front teeth were gone, and there was concern I was going to choke on my own blood. My eyes rolled back in my head, and people were afraid. But the good Samaritans held my neck and turned me on my side until the paramedics arrived.
My first memory is waking up in the emergency room, a surgeon sewing up the inside of my mouth. My knee was fractured in two places, I had numerous abrasions and contusions on my face, I was bruised throughout my body and I had suffered a concussion. The impact of the hit-and-run and the subsequent use of a wheelchair and then a walker aggravated prior injuries to my back and neck. I was in excruciating pain, but thankfully as a result of the concussion, I remember very little about the next five weeks except the seemingly endless doctor appointments. I’ve had three surgeries in my mouth and sustained permanent nerve damage in the area.
After the hit-and-run, city traffic engineers installed two stop signs at the site where I was hit, however, the intersection remains complex, confusing and dangerous. Many community members have suggested improvements that could help. While the city is willing, some surrounding businesses are not.
Since it was a hit-and-run, we did not know if the person who hit me had insurance. We discovered our car collision insurance was not going to cover the medical bills, which by this point were piling up. We thought we had adequate uninsured and underinsured coverage and that our umbrella policy would cover an incident such as this, but it did not. We subsequently learned the woman who hit me had minimal insurance.
The stress of worrying about finances as well as trying to survive the injuries was at times overwhelming. But being surrounded by a loving husband and the kindness of friends, strangers and medical professionals made this experience bearable. After a year, I know my injuries will never completely heal, but I am grateful that I am doing as well as I am.
The city of San Diego has adopted Vision Zero, the goal of ending all traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2025. Pedestrian fatalities, however, are going up locally and nationally. In 2018, 34 people walking in the city of San Diego died after being hit by a car. That is double the number of deaths from the year before. I could have been No. 35. I do not know yet how many traffic fatalities took place in 2019, but even one loss of life is too many.
My hit-and-run did not have to happen. Crashes that result in serious injury or death can be prevented by prioritizing safe street design such as high visibility crosswalks, roundabouts and road diets. While infrastructure is important, drivers also must choose to be part of the solution. Lives can be saved when individuals choose to drive safely, always watch for pedestrians or bicyclists and stop looking at their phone.
No loss of life or serious injury is acceptable. The city, local businesses and drivers all have a role in preventing traffic fatalities and serious injuries. The mayor and City Council members must prioritize safety for people walking, bicycling and driving with the city’s limited resources in next year’s budget. I hope my own experience can help raise awareness to call on everyone in San Diego to make Vision Zero a reality.
Vicki Granowitz is a member of the city Planning Commission, the Balboa Park Committee and the San Diego Parks Foundation.