Just a few days ago, on June 11, 2018, NYSDOT Acting Commissioner Paul Karas announced a $62 million investment in the Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, here in our own home state of New York . This multi-agency initiative will include the Department of Health, DMV, Capital District Transportation Authority and local enforcement agencies. This is, of course, to be warmly welcomed, but let’s get straight to the point, the USA has a stunningly bad track record for pedestrian injuries and deaths, with almost exactly six thousand being killed nationwide, and a vastly greater number being injured, during the last statistical year alone.
Mention crashes involving pedestrians in the USA and people tend to think either of drivers getting it dangerously wrong at crosswalks or pedestrians doing something illegal, such as jay-walking. However, there is significantly more to it than that.
“Regrettably, the USA has a stunningly bad track record for pedestrian injuries and deaths, with almost exactly six thousand being killed nationwide, and a vastly greater number being injured, during the last statistical year (2016) alone.”
Eddie Wren, CEO/Chief Instructor, ADoNA
Existing Crosswalks Often have Serious Problems
Many crosswalks in the U.S. have no advanced warning (yellow diamond) signs at all, and many have badly worn and hard to see white pavement markings on the actual road surface. Either of these scenarios — let alone both — can make it much harder for drivers to notice what is arguably the most important safety feature on any road.
Another issue, which often exacerbates the poor quality pavement markings and/or inadequate signs occurs when vehicles are allowed to park unacceptably close to crosswalks, not only can they partially hide the crosswalk itself from drivers but they also prevent drivers from seeing pedestrians in plenty of time, and vice versa.
How should the danger of having parked vehicles too close to crosswalks be eradicated? It is something that has been done very successfully in other countries for almost half-a-century, and here is a photo of a typical method as used in Britain:
And then there is the entirely unnecessary issue of inappropriate materials being used with which to “paint” the crosswalks. Even regular, white crosswalks are commonly invisible on wet nights, and as you will see here, the use of bright colors is absolutely no guarantee that this helps in any way, although it could serve to confuse visiting drivers from overseas who cannot possibly be expected to know that the range of colors for certain crosswalks does not dictate different legal requirements (which it does not).
In some states, they prefer to paint crosswalks in bright colors to make them more conspicuous in daylight, but whether colors or the regular white are used, it is almost inevitable that unless thermoplastic or other materials with what is known as a high glass-bead content are used (rather than cheap paint), the crosswalks can effectively become invisible on wet nights.
Often, the most unacceptable situation of all involves those features called “unmarked crosswalks.” A more accurate name for unmarked crosswalks is just “road!” There are many times, especially at night or in bad weather, or perhaps at any time of day when there are a lot of parked vehicles on the sides of the road, when drivers who are not local will not be able to see whether there are intersections ahead, or if so, whether they are crossroads or whether or not the side streets have sidewalks (criteria for the existence of an “unmarked crosswalk” across the main street) so how can they possibly know that there actually is an unmarked crosswalk in such locations. It is a frankly stupid situation: Make proper crosswalks!
It goes much further than this, though, because the USA — by comparison with other developed countries that have far better road safety rates — actually has crosswalks with inadequate and sometimes unsafe designs. Apart from inadequate signs and pavement markings, the lack of safety commonly falls into three categories: (1) preventing vehicles parking close to crosswalks (or overtaking on the approach); (2) safe median areas where pedestrians can wait before crossing the next traffic lanes; (3) targetted lighting to help drivers see pedestrians at night.
Extra Crosswalks Are Very Much Needed
Most drivers would probably agree that some pedestrians cross the road where they shouldn’t, occasionally only a few yards from a crosswalk, but sometimes there can be no denying that such so-called jay-walking becomes inevitable through bureaucratic incompetence.
If YOU were directly across a road from where you need to be, and the nearest crosswalk — marked or “unmarked” — is maybe 200 yards away (or much farther), would you walk there and back, simply to get across the road or would you look for a gap in traffic and then hurry straight across?
Yes, you would take the long walk? Hmmm; I bet you wouldn’t always. But now what if it’s raining hard? Or maybe you are getting into your senior years and can’t walk very well? Or perhaps you have two little children to get home and they are tired and crying? Now would you make the 400+ yard, two-way walk to that distant crosswalk and back? I bet ninety-nine percent of us would not. So is it really that unreasonable for us all to simply expect that not every pedestrian will always use crosswalks? If you are still answering that every person must and will always use crosswalks, go to the back of the class!
But there is at least a partial solution to this inevitability. The USA needs to “get it” that vehicle occupants are not some sort of superior beings who must always be given priority and delayed as little as possible. All road users are born equal and must always remain equal. Maximum safety is vastly more important than any make-believe “right” of drivers not to be delayed by “mere” pedestrians! In many locations, well-placed mid-block crosswalks would greatly increase pedestrian safety.
And What About Sidewalks?
In too many U.S. towns and cities, there are no sidewalks at all on many streets, or even on busy, larger roads. On others, there is quite commonly a sidewalk only on one side. Each scenario — particularly the one with no sidewalks at all — undeniably makes it more dangerous for anyone to walk alongside the road.
An additional downside to this situation is that it actively discourages many Americans from walking anywhere, despite the fact that frequent walking has a remarkably positive effect on people’s long-term health and is to be encouraged.
Drivers’ Mindset (and the Golden Rule)
Our own, carefully-worded, person-to-person enquiries at Advanced Drivers of North America, with people such as military pilots, airline pilots, and many other professional, highly-capable people, has revealed that they are virtually all very willing to admit that they simply do not concentrate enough when driving a car. Basically, they all acknowledge that they should but then admit that they don’t!
Interestingly, however, “concentration” is only the second-most important of the four essential requirements of truly good driving, and we teach these requirements on all of our courses.
In the meanwhile, here is the best-practice based Golden Rule of Safe Driving.
Distraction, Distraction, Distraction!
For this topic it might sound like a pun, but when it comes to road safety, distraction truly is a two-way street.
Yes, far too many people are being immature and irresponsible enough to make or take phone calls while driving (for even a hands-free conversation increases the risk of involvement in a fatal or serious-injury crash by a factor of four; it is NOT just hand-held phones that increase danger)! And, as everyone now knows, texting or gaming is even more dangerous. That does not, however, mean that we should forget about the dangers of phone conversations and focus solely on texting and similar keyboard use.
Anything at all that unjustifiably takes a driver’s eyes or mind off the road is distracted driving — end of story!
And on the other hand, far too many pedestrians and cyclists — both groups of whom come into the category known as Vulnerable Road Users [VRU] — do it too which is, of course, very dangerous indeed.
Laws and Enforcement
Frankly, more stringent laws are needed in the USA in relation to cutting the number of road deaths. Just because a pedestrian makes a bad judgement call and attempts to cross the road at a bad location or an inopportune moment, it emphatically does NOT mean that a driver who hits and quite possibly kills the pedestrian is somehow blameless. Drivers have — or at least should have — an absolute responsibility to do their utmost to avoid contributing to any harm done to any other road user who is within range of those drivers’ vehicles. Anything less is immoral, unethical and unacceptable. Drivers having the “right of way” does not and must not also imply a right to kill anyone who gets in that way.
Key features of any long-overdue program to reduce the horrendously excessive number of pedestrian deaths each year in the USA must not only be better crosswalk facilities but also the need to create far more crosswalks.
Improvements to crosswalks need to include much more visible pavement markings and adequate, well-placed warning signs to make the crosswalks significantly more conspicuous.
There also need to be significant restrictions to prevent vehicles from parking anywhere near crosswalks, so that nobody’s view is in any way restricted by such vehicles, as well as a complete ban on overtaking on crosswalks or on the immediate approach to crosswalks.
As mentioned above, safety at crosswalks will also be significantly increased if crosswalks are well-lit at night, so that pedestrians may be seen more easily. And especially on roads with more than one lane each way, safety can also be greatly improved if a median island with a guard rails or safety fencing is added so that pedestrians may safely wait in the middle of the road for a gap in the second set of traffic they must cross.
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