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The Hidden Dangers: Injuries on Pedestrian-Friendly Streets

As we finally approach summer, we’re reminded of all the best things about the season, especially spending time outside, getting together with loved ones, and being “out and about.” Our community streets are bustling again with tourists and locals alike, and the foot traffic is great for small businesses.

However, increased foot traffic means that our communities may see a rise in the risk of pedestrian injuries. According to a study published in the California Journal of Emergency Medicine, “traffic-related pedestrian injuries are a growing public health threat worldwide,” and the impact is amplified for both children and older adults.

This summer, we should refocus on best practices for when pedestrians and vehicles share the streets, including crosswalk safety.

In this post, we’ll discuss some of the unseen or too-often-forgotten safety concerns for pedestrians when vehicles are near. As we take a look at each risk, we’ll also explore crosswalk and sidewalk tips to keep in mind, so you and your family can enjoy a fun and safe summer.

Unmarked Crosswalks

Even when crossing at marked crosswalks, pedestrians are at risk if the crosswalk is not visible to drivers or lacks safety features like pedestrian signals. Unmarked crossings are even more dangerous. Risks of harm to pedestrians amplify when heavy traffic is present or when speed limits exceed 30 miles per hour. Even if you believe a crossing to be marked or “known” to the community, take a moment to pause and check your surroundings (in both directions) before moving across the street.

Nighttime Visibility

It’s no secret that pedestrians wearing dark clothing at night are harder for drivers to see. Nighttime visibility risks may be enhanced in the summer as crowds gather for community events like festivals, fairs and concerts. When attending a nighttime event or even just grabbing a bite to eat after sunset, make sure you do what you can to increase your visibility — don’t rely on vehicles to spot you.

While good lighting at crossings and along sidewalks can improve visibility, you have no control over such overhead lighting factors. If you can plan ahead, carry a flashlight, wear at least one reflective item, and try to use only well-lit areas. In a pinch, you can use the flashlight on your cell phone to draw attention to your group.

Uncontrolled Intersections 

As a pedestrian, approaching an uncontrolled intersection without traffic signals or stop signs requires pedestrians to judge when it’s safe to cross. This can be difficult, especially for children and older adults. Controlled crossings with signals are much safer. If at all possible, use a controlled intersection (with a marked crosswalk) to cross the street, even if it means walking a bit further.

If you have no choice but to use an uncontrolled intersection, be sure to look in all directions before entering the roadway. Pay particular attention to vehicles that may be turning. Ensure that all drivers have seen and acknowledged you (and have stopped their vehicles) before proceeding.

Vehicle Dangers 

SUVs and trucks pose a greater threat to pedestrians than cars, with collisions more likely to be fatal due to these vehicles’ size and shape. According to a recent study of 3,375 crashes, incidents involving full-size SUVs and pickup trucks were “significantly more deadly to pedestrians.”

The study found that around 12 percent of pedestrians hit by pickup trucks were killed in the accident, and over 12.4 percent of those hit by full-size SUVs died due to their injuries. Compared to just an 8.5 percent fatality rate for those hit by cars and a 6.6 percent fatality rate for those hit by vans, the difference is noteworthy. All in all, the chances of dying after being hit by a truck were 68 percent higher than if the individual was hit by a car.

Researchers have noted that the tall hood height of pickup trucks and full-size SUVs, paired with their heavier weights, are the driving force of high fatality rates.  Drivers of these vehicles must be extra vigilant, and so should pedestrians who may be crossing the street or using the sidewalk where these vehicles are present.

What Drivers Can Do To Keep Pedestrians Safe This Summer

While pedestrians must remain vigilant, it’s also up to drivers to keep streets pedestrian-friendly and to drive safely at all times. Consider the following tips:

  • Always yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. As a driver, you must always stop or slow down for pedestrians in crosswalks, even if you believe you have the right-of-way.
  • Never drive distracted. Using a cell phone or in-vehicle infotainment can prove deadly for innocent pedestrians. Keep passenger disruptions to a minimum and enforce safety rules in your vehicle at all times.
  • Don’t speed. Speeding not only prevents you from being able to stop safely in time if you see a pedestrian, but speeding can compound the risk of fatality in the event of a crash. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that speeding has exponential effects on the chance of pedestrian deaths: “The average risk of death for a pedestrian reaches 10% at an impact speed of 23 mph, 25% at 32 mph, 50% at 42 mph, 75% at 50 mph, and 90% at 58 mph.”
  • Never drive while impaired. Even if you are under the legal limit in your state or locality, drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs have impaired judgment and reaction times, putting pedestrians at greater risk.
  • Avoid reckless or aggressive driving. Behaviors like weaving between lanes, running red lights, and making illegal turns can lead to collisions with pedestrians. If you feel aggravated or angry while driving, take a break.
  • Avoid driving in poor visibility conditions. Factors like bad weather, darkness, or obstructions can make it difficult for drivers to see pedestrians, especially in areas without good lighting or sidewalks. If you’re having trouble seeing clearly, pull over and wait for the conditions to pass.