Steve Wallace: A crash course in pedestrian safety

Pedestrians are the most vulnerable travellers in our modern transportation system. Despite the accommodations made for foot traffic, there are all sorts of hazardous situations in everyday commuting.

One of my associates once playfully suggested there should be an ambulatory course for pedestrians. After all, there is training for cyclists, drivers, flyers, skaters, motorcyclists, truckers, transit drivers and almost every other mode of transportation known to humans.

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Walking is good for us. It is healthy. The more we do it the better we feel. This simple activity is said to reduce our overall health costs. The advantages are easy to identify, but it is the disadvantages that often cause serious injury or worse to pedestrians.

Pedestrians most vulnerable to being struck, are those with little understanding of how far and long it takes for those travelling by any type of other transportation to execute a safe stop. If you have never ridden a bike, skateboard, motorcycle or tried other alternate forms of transportation, let alone driven a car, the time needed to stop or take avoidance action in those modes would be hard to understand.

A sidewalk is just that! It is meant for those walking and people with walkers, wheelchairs and scooters, powered or otherwise.

Many pedestrians have never taken a basic theory test involving the rules of the road, and are therefore ignorant of the most basic regulations designed to protect them.

Take for example the signalised intersections in any city. The DON’T WALK flashing symbol means just that, DON’T WALK. For some misguided reason, many pedestrians think they are permitted to cross the street when the declining countdown of seconds remaining is displayed. Entering the intersection as a pedestrian in this situation is a violation. The sign never says RUN, and for good reason. Running does not give drivers enough time to react to unforeseen situations. A classic example of a very predictable crash involving a pedestrian is when a person runs across a multi-lane road and is hidden from a driver who is timing the green light in the outside lane. For this reason, it is never a good idea for a driver to be first off-the-mark at a multi-lane intersection. It is better to have adjacent drivers, going the same direction, provide a blocker style protection when entering. This will have the additional advantage of reducing the chance of a first hit T-bone crash, arguably, one of the top fatal type of hits.

Getting pedestrians actively engaged in the traffic system has always been a challenge. Very few will raise an arm to indicate to drivers and others that they intend to cross the street. This simple action gets the attention of drivers and others in the traffic.

Pedestrian will react to sounds, even if their visual acuity is lacking. Some late model electric vehicles have been equipped with an audible noise, warning pedestrians of their presence. This advancement is meant to replace the need to use the horn to get the attention of a distracted or zoned out walker.

A single, but slight, tap of the horn will often bring pedestrians back to reality. Two taps will mean the reverse gear is engaged. Far too often the horn is used in anger, meant to punish an offending driver or pedestrian. There are times when the blare of a horn is appropriate. I witnessed this last week when a driver alerted a person in a vehicle attempting a wrong way turn onto a one-way street. Aside from the embarrassment, it worked. How many of us, including me, can say we have never made the same error? Not many, I presume!

Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island. He is a former V.P. of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C. teacher and a U of Manitoba graduate.

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