Jaywalk and you could be in court

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 05:00 08/02/2014

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A jaywalker who put a cyclist in hospital has, in a rare move, been prosecuted and fined.

Cyclist Luke Gibbons ended up in hospital after colliding with a pedestrian in September last year. The pedestrian was crossing the road while the "red man" was flashing at the intersection of Customhouse Quay and Whitmore St in Wellington.

Gibbons said he doesn't remember the three-hour aftermath of the crash but he does remember who came off second best.

Yesterday the jaywalker faced the consequences of his split-second decision in a prosecution police have said is rare - but deserves harsher penalties.

Rodolfo Teofilo Jnr Velasco Fonacier, 48, of Upper Hutt, pleaded guilty by letter to suddenly entering a pedestrian crossing without giving Gibbons enough time to give way.

A police summary of facts said the traffic was heavy when Fonacier decided to cross, with the lights green for traffic going south along Customhouse Quay and turning traffic.

Gibbons was on his bike and turning right into Whitmore St with the green signal, but as he crossed into Whitmore St Fonacier stepped out on to the road and collided with his bike.

Gibbons landed on the road and lost consciousness, suffering a muscle tear to his left shoulder, whiplash, a cut left eye and separation of the muscle under his eye. He needed physiotherapy and a fortnight off work.

Fonacier told police he wanted to get to the railway station and had seen the cyclist but was too late to avoid him.

Wellington District Court Justice of the Peace Ian Symonds yesterday fined Fonacier $35 but did not order court costs.

Fonacier was not required to be at court and declined to comment when contacted by The Dominion Post.

Police prosecutor Kevin Shaw told the court the consequences of the accident were out of all proportion to the fine for the offence.

Speaking from Australia, Gibbons said had no hard feelings towards Fonacier but thought Wellington's jaywalkers were a "danger".

"I think it's a risk-taking thing," he said. "I don't blame the pedestrian. Jaywalking is a problem throughout Wellington, lots of people do it. I think we were both unlucky."

He said his helmet, broken by the force of the crash impact, drove home its importance.

"If I wasn't wearing a helmet I'm sure I would have sustained much worse brain injuries. As it happened I made a full recovery mentally."

Between 2006 and 2011, 10 fines for pedestrian offences were issued in Wellington, out of 23 nationwide. Most were for crossing against the "red man" traffic light signal.

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Inspector Peter McKennie, of the Police Infringements Bureau, said the fines were "not a frequent occurrence".

District road policing manager Inspector Donna Laban said jaywalking was a risky business.

"People just don't look. They think they have plenty of time but what they don't realise is the impact to the driver if they hit them . . . the trauma that the person undergoes afterwards."

Wellington city councillor Andy Foster, who chairs the council's transport and urban development committee, said the council tried to reduce the likelihood of people making mistakes and minimise the severity of crashes.

But in crashes involving jaywalking neither road layout nor speed seemed to be a factor.

"In every situation I would stress that people should always do what we teach our children to do, which is to look in all directions before crossing," Foster said.

Do you know the rules? 

There are rules around where and how you cross the road. Getting it wrong can result in fines from $10 to $35.

If you are within 20 metres of a controlled crossing you are required to walk to that crossing to make your way across the road.

You are meant to wait for the green man at intersections controlled by signals, and it is illegal to cross on the red man. However, if it is blank, you may cross if there is no traffic.

You are required to keep to the footpath while walking, and cross at right angles rather than diagonally unless the road markings are angled.

- The Dominion Post

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