On a rainy morning in January 2012, my mother was crossing Elm Street in downtown Portland when she was hit by a motorist. She later recalled that as she lay on the cold and wet asphalt, the driver, cellphone in hand, yelled at her: “Why did you do that? Get up!”

With a gash on her head, three fractures in her leg and one in her hip, my mom wouldn’t be able to get up on her own for months. She was fortunate to escape cognitive injuries, but the crash landed her at New England Rehab for weeks, out of work for months and gave her a permanent limp.

In contrast, the 20-year-old driver who hit my mom drove away from the scene of the crash that day without even a traffic citation. There was no coverage of the incident in local media and no follow-up investigation by the Portland Police Department.

The driver’s insurance company made a payout, so she probably saw an increase in her premium, but since Maine law doesn’t carry penalties for careless driving, her driving record remained untarnished.

I wish I could say that incidents like my mother’s are rare, but each year in Maine, over 250 pedestrians are hit by motorists. Ten of those pedestrians die.

With walking for recreation, health and transportation on the rise, we need to take action to improve pedestrian safety in Maine. As a student and practitioner in public health, I think that auto-centric street design and lack of penalties for careless driving are the key factors we must address.

Despite being one of Maine’s most walkable cities, Portland suffers like the rest of the U.S. from street design that prioritizes automobiles over other modes of travel. Pedestrians’ needs and habits are clearly not the basis for Elm Street’s design.

The block where my mom was hit is home to the city’s main transit hub, a municipal parking garage and the Portland Public Library’s flagship branch – all generators of considerable foot traffic and mid-block pedestrian crossing. Despite this, the roadway has two one-way lanes – an arrangement shown in traffic studies to encourage higher speeds.

To their credit, both the city of Portland and the Maine Department of Transportation are taking steps to address hazardous road design with recently adopted Complete Streets policies. This approach requires roads to be planned, designed, operated and maintained to enable safe, convenient and comfortable travel and access for users of all ages and abilities.

Unfortunately, Portland’s proposed city budget would eliminate funding for its bicycle pedestrian coordinator – a key player in implementation of the city’s Complete Streets policy. I believe that this is a mistake.

Reversing six decades of car-oriented infrastructure will require an ongoing leadership and capacity. Funding this position is an important investment in Portland’s livability – which benefits not only health and quality of place, but the economy as well.

Of course, road design is only part of the pedestrian safety equation. Aggressive and distracted driving are significant facets of the problem. But how can we expect to change driver behavior when causing another person serious bodily harm holds no more consequence than a fender-bender?

Many states are turning to vulnerable-roadway-user laws to address this disconnect. By increasing legal responsibility and penalties for motorists who injure or kill pedestrians and bicyclists, these laws encourage greater vigilance among drivers.

They also engage law enforcement in a new way. Research shows that ticketing is one of the only effective interventions to reduce unsafe driving behaviors like texting while driving.

The Maine Legislature is currently considering such a law: L.D. 1301, “An Act To Improve the Safety of Vulnerable Users in Traffic and To Clarify the Responsibilities of Bicyclists and Pedestrians.”

If passed, L.D. 1301 would establish fines for drivers who hit and injure pedestrians and other nonmotorized road users – and possible additional civil and criminal penalties. The bill would include instituting drivers’ education requirements about sharing the roadway with vulnerable users.

In the years since my mom was hit, I’ve come to believe that we can create a culture of pedestrian safety, but only if we learn from our mistakes. Maine must begin in earnest to hold careless drivers and faulty road design accountable.

Complete Streets policies and a vulnerable-user law are steps in the right direction. If these issues matter to you, I encourage you to contact your legislators and make your views known. Likewise, Portland residents can contact the City Council about the current budget proposal.