This happened to me, but it could happen to anyone. I was just going to the store, minding my own business. March 5, I was standing on the corner of Ninth and Howard streets in San Francisco. When the light turned green, I stepped off the curb.
But someone ran the red light.
Suddenly, I heard and saw a crash on the other side of the intersection. The next thing I knew, I was lying in the gutter.
I remember someone holding me down and blood dripping down on the curb. The guy in charge of the hotel where I live was holding my hat and saying, “Mr. Brennan, Mr. Brennan.”
The ambulance, the emergency room and even the next two weeks went by in a blur. Now, time has slowed way down.
My left lower leg is crushed. My pelvis and shoulder are broken. I have torn ligaments in my right knee.
I’ve had three operations. They put some hardware in my hip to fix it, an external brace on my crushed lower leg and a plate into my shoulder. I can’t put any weight on my leg yet. I have to see how my shoulder heals before I can use crutches.
I’m looking at many months of physical therapy; it’s not going to be easy. Still, I’m the lucky one. Another man on the sidewalk, Curtis Kerry, was killed.
The irony is that before I was hit by a red-light runner, I was a volunteer librarian doing research on traffic accidents for the Trauma Foundation, which works to prevent violence and injuries.
Now I am determined to do what I can to stop people from running red lights, to stop people who could kill other people. Sometimes I’m pessimistic, because people run lights all the time. But the folks at the Trauma Foundation tell me there are several places to start.
First, enforcement. I think red-light running should be prosecuted as a crime. If you shoot a gun at someone and miss, they still press criminal charges. If you run a red light and don’t happen to hit someone, it should still be a crime.
The fines should be high, but that’s not enough. Maybe if you’re caught running a red light more than once, you should lose your license, as with drunk driving.
There are engineering solutions that would help.
Make the stop lights and street signs bigger.
Take the clutter away. You barely notice the traffic signs in my neighborhood among all the flashing lights for go-go dancing, billboards, directions to the Golden Gate Bridge. Drivers don’t see the “no left turn” signs, so they stop and wait, and other drivers back up behind them, honking and getting mad. Angry drivers run red lights.
And we need more education.
You can make all the laws in the world, but it all comes down to the people behind the wheel. They spend mile after mile in bumper-to-bumper traffic, they get mad, and they take out their aggression with their cars.
It’s not just cars. I’ve seen buses race through yellows, then block the intersection. And too many pedestrians ignore lights because they think they can run to the other side before the next wave of traffic comes.
My city’s Emergency Medical Services division is asking people to send me pledge cards promising that they won’t run red lights. Maybe that will remind people to stop using city streets as highways.
When I get out of the hospital and finish my rehab, I’m going back to the Trauma Foundation to work on stopping red-light running.
I hope that people who hear about my story will be more aware of the yellow light - when they drive and when they walk. Please do me a favor. When you’re in your car, slow down at the yellow and stop at the red. Let’s stop killing people.