Children across the United States started a new school year this month. Many of them walk to school on a daily basis. Some parents prefer their child to walk because of the health benefits to both the child and the planet. Others think it's too dangerous. Both are right. Nearly 70,000 pedestrians are hit by cars each year in the United States. In September of 2009, while walking to pre-school, 3-year-old Elle Vandenberghe became one of those pedestrians.

Elle's Story

Elle was struck by a car whose operator was driving in reverse illegally through an intersection, against a red light, and over the crosswalk in order to secure a parking space. Elle was critically injured and was in a coma for weeks. She suffered a stroke and brain damage that resulted in the removal of two-thirds of the left side of her brain. Elle's parents were told she would likely never walk or talk again. Although she is making an amazing recovery, talking and relearning to use her right side, Elle spent eight months in the hospital, endured 11 surgeries including a cranioplasty to replace half of her skull with a prosthetic, and is still in physical therapy a year later to help her recover.

The driver received a traffic ticket and paid a small fine.

Elle's Law in New York

In New York State, where now 4-year-old Elle lives, as well as in most other states, reckless drivers who injure pedestrians only face harsh penalties if drugs or alcohol are involved. 2008 data shows that of the 15,000 traffic accidents involving pedestrians in New York State that year, only 2% involved drugs or alcohol. Elle's mother, Heather Vandenberghe, decided to help the other 98% of victims by taking action and working to push through legislation to protect pedestrians injured by reckless drivers.

On August 31, 2010, New York Governor David Paterson signed Elle's Law into effect. The new law raises penalties for reckless drivers who cause injury to pedestrians, including a license suspension of up to one year for causing serious physical harm to another person while committing a traffic violation. Unfortunately, Elle's Law only protects pedestrians in the state of New York, but hopefully it will help to spread awareness of the loopholes that protect reckless drivers throughout the country.

Stay Safe

As of 2010, only 13 states have active laws in place to punish reckless drivers who injure pedestrians. A current list of states that do not have strict laws against reckless driving is available at the Elle's Law website. If your state is on that list, consider contacting your state legislature and convincing them to create a similar law to protect your children.

You can also help spread the word about Elle's Law by talking to friends and family and by joining the Elle's Law Facebook fan page. In addition, you can become a Safety Volunteer through the Automobile Association of America to help children arrive at home and school safely.

In the meantime, the Elle's Law website offers these tips for staying safe:

  • Always use the sidewalks.
  • When crossing the street, cross only at intersections with traffic light and wait for the "walk" sign to illuminate.
  • Always look twice and both ways before crossing the street.
  • Avoid becoming distracted while crossing the street. Stop using your cell phone, stop texting, stop playing with your MP3 player and pay attention.
  • Be alert at all times.
  • Make sure you are seen, be noticeable, and walk facing traffic.
  • Wear bright colors when walking at night to ensure you are seen by drivers.

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