Pedestrian Safety – It is Not an Oxymoron

Shockingly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has advised that a pedestrian is injured every seven minutes somewhere in the Country while, tragically, a pedestrian is killed every two hours. In 2013, there were 4,735 pedestrians killed and an estimated 66,000 injured in the United States alone.

These are jaw-dropping statistics! We all grew up looking out for pedestrians. We taught our children to look both ways before they cross the street. Now, pedestrian accidents and deaths are on the rise.

In a January 2016 article, the Washington Post indicated, “walking is becoming an increasingly dangerous activity, as the number of pedestrians killed in crashes in the Washington area continues to rise.” What is causing this tragic statistic? A number of issues are occurring and in order to solve it, we need to make a few changes.

1.    Clearly, there are distracted drivers and many speeding well past the limit. This can happen even at intersections with stoplights. Cars turning right on red need to pay extra attention to pedestrians crossing the street. All too often, neither the driver nor pedestrian pay attention.

2.    There are also distracted pedestrians. Many are walking with their devices, headphones, or earbuds, and, likely, not obeying traffic signals. Pedestrians also need to take responsibility!

3.    More and more, pedestrians seem to dress in dark clothing at night. When I was younger, I remember all of the public service announcements telling us that if we were going out at night we should either be wearing reflective clothing or, at the very least, light colored clothing. It seems all of the pedestrians that are out have ignored taking any safety precautions on their end.

4.    As we know, pedestrians have the right-of-way. Unfortunately, pedestrians seem to take the right-of-way without also looking and listening. Perhaps drivers are not always being respectful of the pedestrian’s right-of-way. You end up with a situation where drivers feel that pedestrians are going to stop while pedestrians feel that drivers are going to stop.

How will we deal with this issue? There are a number of things that can be done to help reduce the pedestrian’s deaths and accidents.

1.    There needs to be better technology utilized at all signalized intersections.  These technologies involve:

  • Real time knowledge of pedestrian activity at traffic signals;
  • Use of thermal imaging to extend walk times while crossing an intersection;
  • Installation of inroad LED lighting to highlight crosswalks;
  • If a mid-block crosswalk is used, make it a “smart crosswalk” such that when a pedestrian is present and ready to cross, the inroad LED lights begin to illuminate and flash.

2.    Consider technology/signs that are outlined with LED’s that flash when the pedestrian is present to help inform a distracted driver of the presence of pedestrians.

3.    Tie together traffic signals – red, yellow, and green – with inroad LED lighting to give additional warning to distracted drivers that a traffic signal is going to change.

The Federal Highway Administration, several years ago, put together a Pedestrian Road Safety Audit, which provided guidelines to follow. One key point: local jurisdictions need to undertake a pedestrian safety audit.  Surprisingly, only 26% of pedestrian crashes occur mid-block. Nearly 20% occur at the intersections or dealing with vehicles turning at the intersection. Almost eight percent of pedestrian crashes occur by pedestrians walking along the roadway.

I believe that LED raised pavement markers that are approved by the Federal Highway Administration and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices need to be more prominent at many intersections.

We need to take these facts seriously. Pedestrian safety audits remedial action would save lives. Something to think about the next time you cross the street.

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