Author: Melinda H. South
Pedestrian accidents involving a motor vehicle very often result in death or serious injury. Every time they step into the roadway, pedestrians are confronting forces many times faster and more powerful than they are. The twin keys to avoiding one of these devastating accidents are visibility and predictability. If drivers can see where pedestrians are and can predict where they will be, they have a much easier time avoiding them. All too often, however, pedestrians don’t worry about their visibility to drivers or fail to behave in a predictable manner, resulting in more then 4,000 pedestrian deaths every year.
All of us have seen examples of pedestrians displaying a concerning disregard for their own safety. Recently, I was leaving the mall late at night and noticed a number of young people crossing a four-lane street between intersections. Not only is this inadvisable, but the law in fact requires that pedestrians cross the street at an intersection or crosswalk if one is available. (Va. Code § 46.2-923) These young people were actually forced to stop in the road to let my vehicle and one other car pass before continuing to the other side.
As I waited for a light just down the road, I realized that they were now skateboarding on the unmarked pavement to my right. These young riders were neither visible nor predictable. They wore dark clothing and had no sources of light or reflective surfaces to help alert drivers to their presence. Furthermore, they were riding in the vicinity of a major intersection of two four-lane roads, which forced the drivers around them to split their attention between many different points. Finally, the skateboards gave them a whole new level of unpredictability. Even setting aside the very real possibility of a fall into traffic, they were much faster than drivers would expect pedestrians to be, allowing them to come from outside a driver’s perception into the danger zone before the driver can react.
In order to share the road safely pedestrians must be aware of the limitations and shortcomings of drivers. If pedestrians assume that all drivers are safe and conscientious, they may place themselves in danger from a speeding or distracted driver. The fact that the resulting collision would be largely the driver’s fault is small consolation to the injured pedestrian or their surviving family members. Follow these guidelines to help protect yourself whenever you travel on foot:
- Wear light colors to increase your visibility. The most deadly pedestrian accidents are those where the driver never saw the pedestrian before the collision.
- Always use crosswalks and intersections. Pedestrians are much safer when they are where drivers expect them to be.
- Look left, right, left before you cross the street; then continue to look in all directions as you cross. If a driver is speeding they may arrive at your crossing point faster than you think.
- When walking in a dark area, increase your visibility with a light or reflective tape. Remember that drivers have lights in front, and so can see very little in the darkness along the side of the road.
- Dusk and dawn are actually more dangerous than night time. When the sun is low in the sky it blinds drivers, and many vision-impaired drivers assume that they are safe to proceed as long as no cars are in their path.
- Just like drinking and driving, drinking and walking increases your danger by slowing your reaction time and impairing your decision-making.