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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety

Spring has sprung and that means road conditions will be changing. One of the primary issues drivers will face as the weather warms is the increase of pedestrians and bicyclists on the road. According to the Federal Highway Safety Administration (FHSA), pedestrian fatalities make up about 11 percent of all traffic fatalities and there are approximately 4,600 pedestrian deaths and 70,000 injuries in roadway crashes every year. The states with the highest pedestrian fatality rates in proportion to their population are:

1. District of Columbia
2. Florida
3. New Mexico
4. Louisiana

One thing D.C. and these states have in common is a high tourism rate and, with the possible exception of D.C., these states also enjoy a longer warm weather season, bringing more pedestrians and bicyclists out onto the road. That isn’t to say that other parts of the country that don’t enjoy such warm weather have nothing to worry about. Pedestrian safety is an issue nationwide. At this time of year, with more pedestrians on the road, it’s time to review some of the safety issues regarding pedestrians and bicyclists.

A common reason for collisions between motor vehicles and pedestrians is that the driver didn’t see the pedestrian in time to avoid hitting them. While this may sometimes be the fault of the pedestrian (due to lighting conditions and dark clothing) it doesn’t relieve the driver of responsibility. A common rule of law is that drivers must do everything in their power to avoid a collision, even if they had the right-of-way at the time the collision occurred. Many pedestrian collisions are the result of drivers allowing themselves to be distracted and not paying full attention to the road.

Another issue is aggressive driving; drivers going too fast for conditions, making illegal turns, or failing to use turn signals. Another common rule of law is that people who are breaking any traffic law (speeding, not using turn signals, etc.) forfeit their right-of-way because others can't be expected to predict their unlawful behavior. So, the burden seems to be on the driver.

To avoid collisions with pedestrians drivers need to:

  • Pay attention to the roadway ahead – Don’t just look in front of the vehicle but look at least 12-15 seconds or a full city block down the road ahead.

  • Try to predict where a pedestrian conflict might occur – Neighborhoods with no sidewalks and lots of kids, areas where joggers are commonly encountered, school bus stops, and tourist or commercial areas where people may congregate are examples. Be especially alert for pedestrians walking out from between parked cars. Expect someone to walk out in front of you and plan for it.

  • Watch your speed – Especially in neighborhoods where lots of people may be out for an evening stroll. The speed limit is set for ideal conditions. Just because it is legal to do the speed limit doesn’t mean you have to. You can be charged with driving too fast for conditions even if you aren’t exceeding the speed limit.

  • Watch for bicyclists – Cyclists have a right to use the road and should be given the same respect and space as any other vehicle. Cyclists have a low profile which sometimes makes them difficult to see. Always look twice at an intersection for cyclists before proceeding.

  • Be especially watchful for children – Children are always unpredictable and they often don’t realize how fast a car is traveling or the consequences of their actions. Be especially watchful for children when backing out of a driveway. Your visibility is limited behind your car and even small cars can have a surprisingly large blind spot behind the vehicle. More than two children every week are killed in the US by someone backing over them.

Pedestrians also have a responsibility to avoid a collision. To remain safe, pedestrians should observe these rules:

  • When walking on a roadway, always walk against traffic – This means you should be facing oncoming traffic so that you can see and adjust to any unusual conditions. It is much easier for you to adjust than for a vehicle that is moving much faster.

  • Wear light colored clothing – Don’t make yourself harder to see. You shouldn’t make it harder for a driver who is traveling much faster than you to see you just because you have the right-of-way.

  • Exercise patience - If you are unsure of a vehicle’s speed or a driver’s intentions, don’t take a chance. Wait for the vehicle to pass before proceeding. Don’t expect a driver to yield it to you just because you legally have the right-of-way.

  • If you are walking a dog, make sure it is on a leash – No matter how well trained, animals are always unpredictable. Don’t force a driver to choose between hitting your dog, another vehicle, or you.

  • Teach your children how to be safe pedestrians – Never allow small children to walk on or cross a street by themselves. Teach them to never walk behind a vehicle that could or may be backing up. Children should never be allowed to play in driveways.

  • Make your child wear a helmet when they are on a bicycle – Severe brain injury can easily happen at low speeds and most states have helmet laws for children. Teach your children how to ride safely and never let them ride after dark.

Enjoy the warm weather, but don’t forget your responsibility to always be on guard when you are on the road.

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