It is likely that few of us knew Brandy Prince. I first encountered her name when a friend forwarded a news article to me.
Who was Brandy Prince and why should someone speak for her? Brandy was a 56-year-old retired civil servant; a former resident of San Francisco and air traffic controller with the Federal Aviation Administration; a wife living in New Bern, N.C.; and the victim of a danger which daily threatens the safety and welfare of all blind and visually impaired people no matter where they may live.
On the afternoon of April 14, Brandy Prince was walking, white cane in hand, on the shoulder of a New Bern street when a Craven County Area Transit System van pulled out of a driveway, striking and critically injuring her. She died the next day in a regional trauma center.
In addition to the tragic loss of life, why is this incident important to us? The answer is both simple and complex. Brandy Prince was a visually impaired pedestrian; she represents every person who is blind or visually impaired. She, as so many of us do daily, was exercising her right to walk the streets of her home city in safety and security. She reportedly was on the correct side of the street, facing oncoming traffic. She had no reason to expect a vehicle not on the street to pose a threat to her presence as a pedestrian.
Who is responsible for Brandy Prince's death? The van driver was charged with misdemeanor death by motor vehicle, an offense punishable by not more than 120 days in jail or possibly probation. But what about us, the public, the citizens for whom the streets are intended? Do we not bear a liability, albeit indirectly? True, we advocate for pedestrian rights and pedestrian safety. We call for better signage, more adequate signals, expanded driver education. But is this enough?
How often have we confronted local, state and national leaders and, face- to-face without equivocation, demanded not only new safety features and stronger laws but also consistent enforcement of existing traffic laws? Have we recognized that we desperately need a partnership, a coalition of laws, technology, education and enforcement which, taken together, constitute the framework of pedestrian safety? Do we understand that the catalyst, the spark, the key to effective and consistent pedestrian safety is enforcement? Without enforcement, the best laws, the most sophisticated technology and the broadest education are fated to fall short of the mark.
We neither want nor need more Brandy Princes losing their lives needlessly to carelessness and indifference. Her untimely death and its attendant circumstances speak loudly and clearly to each of us. They challenge us to pursue a proactive crusade for pedestrian safety in our villages, towns and cities; no excuses accepted.
Who then will speak for Brandy Prince? There is only one answer: We must speak for her and act for her. To do less is to fail Brandy, ourselves and the welfare of all pedestrians, of all people who exercise their rights to walk the streets in safety and security.
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