Becoming a Defensive Pedestrian

CrosswalkI’m a walker. I walk pretty much everywhere: my kids to and from school, shopping, to grab a coffee or for a meal. Unless I have a great distance to go, I generally walk and one thing I have noticed is that there are a lot of distracted pedestrians out there, and like the distracted driver, it can be a life threatening or even deadly bad habit.

In the past 24 hours in the GTA, 3 pedestrians have been struck and killed by cars, and just yesterday a 25-year-old woman sustained life-threatening injuries after being hit in an intersection resulting from a hit-in-run accident. The police calling for the driver, who fled on foot, to come forward.

Between 1989 and 2009 almost 9,000 pedestrians were killed and hundreds of thousands were injured on Canada’s roads. See here. By contrast, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada reported 635 aircraft related deaths over a ten year period (between 2004 and 2013).  That total, combined with deaths resulting from home grown terrorism, is still a fraction of pedestrian related deaths. Half of Canadians polled by CBC News, felt less safe from terrorism than they did two years ago with two thirds of Canadians polled believing that a terror attack will occur in the next five years. But Canadians are almost ten times more likely to be killed by a car while walking than to die by aircraft or at the hands of a terrorist. Why is there no outrage against that?

In Toronto alone, pedestrian deaths hit a record high in 2013, accounting for 40 deaths, half of these seniors. See here. And according to a Globe and Mail article, last year wasn’t much better; by September of 2014, 19 pedestrians had been killed, even with and despite awareness campaigns.

Victims of pedestrian injury and death are most often seniors or children. According to a document compiled by the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, “those over age 70 are more likely to be involved in a serious pedestrian incident than are younger people”. Children are especially vulnerable. According to the same document, “children need three important skills that are typically not acquired until between 9 and 11 years of age: the ability to determine and use a safe crossing pathway, the capability to realistically assess a vehicle’s speed and the cognitive means to judge safe gaps in traffic.”

According to the CDC, in 2012 in the United States, 34% of all pedestrians killed in traffic crashes were legally drunk, with a blood alcohol concentration of greater than or equal to 0.08 grams per deciliter. In Canada in 2008, among pedestrians tested for alcohol post-mortem, almost 40 percent had been drinking and 27 percent had BACs over 160 mg%.” (Sorry, I don’t understand the blood alcohol levels here, but you get the idea)

Obviously, driver training and some regulation of speed limits and signage can make a difference to the outcomes. Technology can even lead to safer road conditions by employing safety devices inside and outside the car that can protect the pedestrian. But in the meantime, there are some things that we, proactively can do to protect ourselves.

It is never too late of too early to learn road safety, and if you don’t find this too patronizing, here is my list of do’s to follow to be a safe and defensive pedestrian:

• Whenever possible, cross the street at a designated crosswalk or intersection. I know, the light takes forever to change OR it’s too far to the intersection, but this is the safest way to cross the street.

• Always look both ways before crossing any street including a marked crosswalk or an intersection with a Walk signal. It’s funny, when I was a kid, it was drilled into my head to look both ways before you cross the street. Funny how I rarely hear that any more, despite it being one of the best forms of advice.

• Continue to look as you cross the street and check every lane of traffic, and any gap, as you walk. This is so important. Until you are on the other side of the street, you are NOT in the clear. It’s not the time for pulling out your cell phone or texting your Mom. Keep your eyes on the road at all times.

• Do the same when crossing at intersections but also watch for turning vehicles. I think that turning vehicles are especially dangerous. I always look to the turning car to make sure that they yield me, because sometimes, or even many times in my experience they won’t. Just because you legally have the right-of-way doesn’t mean that the cars will yield you.

• Never allow a marked crosswalk or WALK signal to allow you to feel safe. The light has changed and BOOM, you’re in the road; without looking both ways before you cross the road, before waiting for all cars to come to a complete stop, before you look through the windshield of the car pulling up to the intersection to see if he/she sees you. You should always be on your guard. A car, or bus, or truck can hit you at any time. I also ditto this for crossing guards. Just because they have a stop sign and a whistle does not mean that cars will obey them any more than the rules of the road.

• Always watch out for traffic and do not use electronic devices or wear head phones when walking into the road because when you are looking down or you’re distracted, you cannot see or hear a car coming toward you. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen people, young and old alike doing this. It drives me crazy. Or, while on their electronic devices, standing IN the intersection before the crosswalk or WALK signal has changed. Please don’t do this.

• Be visible when possible. Toronto’s dress code is all shades of black, which makes visibility especially hard for drivers at night to see you. I purposely bought my son electric yellow snow pants, that glow like there’s no tomorrow, and trust me, not only can I see him from a mile away, but so can drivers. If you don’t have access to glowing snow pants, opt for retro-reflective clothing or glow tape.

• It’s safest to walk on a sidewalk, but if one is not available, walk on the shoulder and face traffic. In my current neighbourhood, we have no sidewalks on the side streets. It is really difficult, especially in the winter, with snow and ice forming at the side of the road. Use extreme caution.

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