More and Better Crosswalks in the USA Would Save Many Lives

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.

Photograph of a crosswalk location sign in the USA
Crosswalk location sign, USA. (Copyright image, 2012.)

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.

A photo of parked vehicles at the roadside, over the top of which can be seen what appears to be a warning roadsign for a pedestrian crosswalk ahead, but that isn't the case at all.
A seemingly good view of a sign warning of a crosswalk AHEAD, but that isn’t accurate. See the next photo. (Copyright image, 2017.)
A photo showing just how misleading and potentially dangerous the scenario in the previous photo was. Suddenly, we are right on top of a crosswalk and had insufficient warning, largely due to vehicles being allowed to park too close to the crosswalk itself.
Sudden danger! In the last photo, the sign looked like a warning for a crosswalk ahead but it wasn’t; it was a “crosswalk right here” sign, partially hidden by the parked, white Jeep (and the crosswalk itself effectively wasn’t visible at all due to a slight hillcrest. This is grossly inadequate planning and could easily result in the injury or death of a pedestrian. (Copyright image, 2017.)

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.

A crosswalk location sign, the view of which has partially been blocked by parked vehicles, resulting in it now wrongly looking like a sign warning of a crosswalk up ahead -- a potentially dangerous scenario.
Once again, a blocked view of a sign (due to the parked vehicles) and as a result it suggests that it is a warning for a crosswalk up ahead, when that is not the case. (Copyright image, 2017.)
Photo of a pedestrian stepping out onto a crosswalk but having, up until that moment, been unable to see approaching vehicles and also being hidden from the view of approaching drivers; a dangerous situation caused by vehices in the USA being allowed to park far to close too crosswalks.
And here is an elderly pedestrian stepping out onto the crosswalk, yet he has only just come into sight for the approaching driver because of the parked vehicles. Such blocked views should *never* be permitted. (Copyright image, 2017.)

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:

Photo of a British pedestrian crossing (crosswalk) showning the zig-zag lines which denote that no parking is allowed and no overtaking.
The approach to a pedestrian crossing (crosswalk) in Britain. The zig-zag lines alongside each lane denote that parking in that area or overtaking the lead vehicle as it approaches the crossing is an offence (with very significant fines). The length of the zig-zag marked area is directly related to the speed limit. Not visible in this image, although present behind the moving vehicles, is a median island with safety fencing on both sides, to protect pedestrians waiting in the middle to cross the second half of the road. (Copyright image, 2018.)

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).

Photo of two supposedly bright yellow crosswalks that are effectively on rainy nights.
There are two crosswalks in this rainy-night scene, but because they have been created with inappropriate, inadequate paint, rather than thermoplastic or other suitable material with what is called a “high glass bead content,” look how lethally invisible they are! (Copyright image, 2017.)
Daytime photograph of what are supposedly very visible crosswalks. Indeed they are very visible in daylight, especially when the road is dry, but on wet nights they effectively disappear and become lethal.
This is exactly the same location as the previous photograph, the following morning. And somebody in authority thinks these supposedly highly-visible crosswalks are acceptable? No; sorry. The materials used are dreadfully inadequate in certain circumstances and such materials should be banned. (Copyright image, 2017.)

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.

Photo of two pedestrians dangerously standing half way across a road in very low light.
Two darkly-clothed pedestrians dangerously standing in the middle of the road (in the center, left-turn-only lane) in dawn light, while trying to cross. Copyright image.

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?

Photograph of two women jay-walking in the USA.
In this instance, there were nearby crosswalks in both directions. Pedestrians are all-too-often at fault for simply not making the effort to be safe. (Copyright image, 2017.)

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!

A better-than-average, mid-block crosswalk in Lake George, NY, USA.
A better-than-average, mid-block crosswalk at Lake George, New York State. With, better quality “paint,” clear parking restrictions on the approach side and some effective, solid protection for any pedestrians needing to wait in the median, this could become a first-class crosswalk. (Copyright image, 2017.)

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!

Photo of a driver with a GPS unit badly positioned and blocking some view directly ahead, but also very dangerously watching a video or television while driving.
A driver with a GPS unit badly positioned and blocking some view directly ahead, but also very dangerously watching a video or television while driving (and photographed from the passenger seat of our car as the offending driver was alongside us).  Even on a well-illuminated, well-marked crosswalk, any pedestrian would be in great danger from this driver.  Copyright image, 2017.

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.

Photograph of a young lady texting on her phone while waiting to cross the road.
Sadly, around the world, people who have never witnessed the violent outcome of road fatalities blithely trust things like traffic lights to keep them safe and, for example, will keep on texting while crossing the road, oblivious to the fact that some drivers — often *distracted* drivers do run through red traffic lights (etc.). Copyright image, 2018.

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.

Summary

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.

Photograph of traffic in one lane static on a crosswalk while a pedestrian is wending her way between the stopped vehicles to cross the road. The danger of a moving vehicle in the other lane striking the pedestrian is very high.
Bans on passing any vehicles that are approaching a crosswalk or stopped at a crosswalk are essential if the hitting of pedestrians who are crossing is to be prevented. This is basic but is an absolute necessity. (Copyright image, 2018.)

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.

Photograph of a disabled person in a wheelchair on a city crosswalk.
The criteria and adequacy of crosswalks must naturally meet the full safety requirements of all users, including visibility from sufficient distance, and not just the needs of standing, able-bodied walkers. (Copyright image, 2018.)

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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Motorcyclists Drive Distracted, Too!

Don’t assume that drivers and some pedestrians are the only ones who dangerously use cell phones on the roads.  As you can see, this young rider has his left hand off the handlebars and although this bit can’t be see from the angle of the photograph, it did very much look like he had a cell phone in his hand as he went past.  And that’s not as unusual as you might think.

Photo of a motorcyclist with one hand off the handlebars, apparently holding a cell phone in a viewable position, in that hand.
A young motorcyclist, possibly tired of life, who appeared to have a cell phone in his left hand as he rode past us at speed, on our right hand side. Photo taken from the passenger seat. (Copyright image.)

Save crash-related costs by getting your employees properly trained on how best to protect themselves from other people driving badly (and from their own, potentially unrecognized errors, too).  Get details of our corporate defensive and advanced safe driving courses, then contact us from that page with any questions you might have.

Keep Clear of Semi Tractor-Trailers at Intersections and Tight Curves

Over 4,500 people are killed each year in the USA in road collisions that involve semi tractor-trailers and other large trucks, and the majority of those killed are in smaller vehicles which, for whatever reason, are simply too close to the truck concerned.

Photo of "Wide Turn" warning signs on the spray flaps of a semi tractor-trailer.
A good proportion of large trucks, especially semi tractor-trailers, display warning signs — here on the spray flaps — about the need for them to be driven “wide” on the approach to sharp turns at intersections, yet sadly a huge number of car drivers remain oblivious to the extreme danger that can result from ignoring these warnings. (Copyright image.)

Continue reading “Keep Clear of Semi Tractor-Trailers at Intersections and Tight Curves”

Watching a Video can be Deadly – If you do it While Driving!

Sadly, when politically-correct people in the field of traffic safety state that one should never refer to drivers as “stupid,” or by any other derogatory adjective, there have to be occasions which deserve an exception, and if watching television or videos while driving is not a supreme example of dangerous idiocy, I’m not sure what is.

Photo of a driver with a GPS unit badly positioned and blocking some view directly ahead, but also very dangerously watching a video or television while driving.
Driving at speed with a GPS unit badly positioned and blocking some of the view directly ahead, but also very dangerously watching television or a video while driving. Now look at the rearview mirror and even though it’s feint/dim, you will see the reflected face of a child passenger sitting in the second row of seats. This is the original image, with no edited additions. (Copyright image.)

Continue reading “Watching a Video can be Deadly – If you do it While Driving!”

Just a Few Miles Over the Speed Limit — Is it Dangerous or Acceptable?

Once a person has been driving for a few years, and maybe had no crashes, it’s okay to go a few miles an hour over the posted speed limit, right?  And the police don’t give out tickets if you’re doing just 35 mph in a 30 limit or 45 in a 40 limit, so it’s got to be safe, yeh?

Many people try to justify a bit of extra speed like this with their opinion that it’s safe and of no consequence, or they are frankly just oblivious to it because “everybody else does the same all the time,” but sadly — in fact tragically — these myths are the opposite of the truth.

A major part of the problem lies in the laws of physics — the only laws, so the old joke goes, that nobody can break — so if you don’t like what follows, blame Einstein and Newton and all of their pals.

A key fact is that the faster an object is moving, the harder it is to stop it.  But this is where those rules of physics come in.  A normal, non-scientific person would assume that if something is going twice as fast now as it was say a minute ago, it will be twice as hard to stop it, right?  But it doesn’t work like that.  At twice the speed, an object is much more than twice as hard to stop and as a rough rule-of-thumb a vehicle takes about four times as far to stop under braking if its speed has been doubled.

The other problem involves a driver’s best reaction time.  Straight away, though, here’s another sad fact:  Most drivers don’t concentrate properly on their driving so very few can use their “best” reactions in an emergency.  So whether a person has good, medium or bad reactions, they will take the same time  as they usually do to react in any risky situation that they were not expecting to occur, and if a vehicle is travelling at twice its previous speed it will obviously cover twice the distance while the driver is in the process of reacting, so a lot of extra ground has been lost and there is now that much less time and distance in which to stop before hitting the thing up ahead that has caused the driver to brake.

Most people can do well on an actual test of reaction time.  Someone says something like “press the button each time the light comes on,” and you do.  But the problem is that you know that the light is going to come on and so you are ready, with your finger on the button and muscles tensed.  But real life, and in particular driving, are not like that.  Drivers are typically far too complacent (e.g. “I’ve been driving for thirty years and never had a crash.” Or “I’ve driven this road a thousand times; I know every bump and twist.”)

And virtually all drivers are distracted, too.  Yes, far too many are crazy enough to talk on cell phones — even hands-free phone conversations significantly increase the risk of a serious crash but it’s not possible to enforce this so no law enforcement agencies have tried to do so — and others even text while driving, which is a form of homicidal or suicidal lunacy.  But these aren’t the only issues:  Anybody driving while thinking about anything other than their driving at any moment is a distracted driver; there’s no getting away from that fact, and we ALL do it.  A key difference between unsafe drivers and safer drivers is that the safer ones think only about their driving for a much larger proportion of the time, and that takes effort.  But nobody is a robot.  Nobody can concentrate at the 100 percent level for 100 percent of the time, especially on longer journeys.

So now, back to the few miles an hour over the posted speed limit:  That’s only a few MPH, right; not double the speed?  But lets see the effect.

Here’s a relatively old video showing exactly what can happen when a driver is doing 35mph in a 30mph limit.  The age of the video is irrelevant because the physics of the matter will never change. Even as better braking technology has trimmed some feet off stopping distances over the years, that still has not prevented the same effect happening; it just takes place at slightly different distances.

The next video shows a very different way of looking at the same problem, but as the speeds used are given in kilometres, here’s a conversion list for American and British readers:

  • 65 km/h = 40.6 mph
  • 60 km/h = 37.5 mph
  • 32 km/h = 20 mph
  • . 5 km/h = . 3 mph

 

So just a tiny three miles per hour difference in the initial speeds made a life-threatening 17mph difference in impact speeds.  If that doesn’t convince you, nothing will!

Finally, if you are thinking about swerving as an alternative to braking to try to avoid a crash, please don’t forget that while swerving is sometimes successful on racetracks, where everyone is ultra-alert and all travelling in one direction (although it can still fail spectacularly, too), and it might be great fun to practice skid recovery or evasive swerving on abandoned runways and empty parking lots,  the fact is that on real roads there are often vehicles coming the other way.  Do you want to hit one and die?  Trees and ditches can easily kill you, too.  And then there can be pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists nearby.  Do you want to kill them (and then pretend to the officer that it was somehow an unavoidable “accident” rather than a dangerous choice of your own speed)?

Take a look at the Golden Rule of Safe Driving.

If this article sounds as though I’m preaching at readers or lecturing you, I apologize, but as a retired traffic patrol police officer who has attended too many fatal and serious-injury crashes, and also had to tell too many devastated loved ones that their husband, wife, daddy, mommy, brother, sister, son or daughter is never coming home again, then — believe me — I really hope that you will take the above facts to heart and make sure that neither your own family nor anyone else’s will ever have to hear that news all because you were doing a few miles an hour over the speed limit.

It happens every day without fail!  About 30 out of the average 100-plus highway deaths every single day in the USA involve someone driving over the posted speed limit or at a speed that was inappropriately too fast for the circumstances, even if that was within the limit.

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Also see: Belief that Speed Doesn’t Cause Crashes is Untrue & Deadly

and:  ADoNA: The Clear Leader in U.S. Driver Safety and Training – a Research Victory

Terrible New Record Number of Pedestrian Deaths in California

Vulnerable Road Users [VRU] include pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists.  Among these, pedestrians are certainly in very serious danger in California.

Just 10 years ago, 17 percent of California’s roadside [sic] fatalities involved pedestrians. That number has since grown to 25 percent…. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, preliminary results show a record-high 900 people died [in 2016] across the Golden State – an increase [of more than five percent] from 852 in 2015.

Many experts consider that the use of smartphones, etc., both by drivers and other road users is a major factor in such elevated numbers of road deaths.

There is an interesting, detailed article on this, from the Desert Sun.

When Road Signs Can Increase the Danger – 001

Some road signs are incorrect for their task and others can create problems by not being located exactly where they should be (sometimes because the installer was sticking strictly to a rule book and didn’t use common sense).  But in this case the cause of potential danger is different:

Photo of a "Turn Off Cell Phones and Two-Way Radios" sign, too close to the construction zone (thus a danger created by distracting the drivers).
What to do? Switching off phones and radios is often linked to danger from explosives but if a driver starts messing about trying to switch off a phone this close to the construction zone, his distraction might cause him to hit someone…. like the worker who is walking across the road in this photo!   New York State.  (Copyright image.)

Continue reading “When Road Signs Can Increase the Danger – 001”

No More Excuses for Hand-held Cell Phones in Washington State

As of tomorrow –July 23, 2017 — it will be against the law for Washington State drivers to use hand-held cell phones while they are driving. This applies to all electronic devices, including tablets, laptops and video games. Tickets for driving while using hand-held electronics will go on a driver’s record and be reported to their insurance provider:

Even if you’re stopped at a light;

Or your kid is texting you;

Or you just need to check the score;

Or tell someone you’re running late.

Photo of an attractive bridge in the scenically beautiful Washington State.
Washington State, in the north west corner of the USA is wonderful for scenic drives and is also very actively fighting road deaths. Copyright image.

For further information on the new law, see:

Eddie Wren, CEO & Chief InstructorAdvanced Drivers of North America

Many cell phone drivers say they would not quit calling even if they caused a crash

Forty percent of drivers say that even if they caused a collision, it would not stop them using cell phones while driving, according to new research.

Photo of driver usings a hand-held cell phone at the wheel.
Not only using a hand-held cell phone while driving but also at an intersection and with an arm across the driver’s airbag due to one-handed steering. So a collision is more likely, as are greater injuries because of the bad steering. (The drivers face is deliberately blurred.)  Copyright image.

Continue reading “Many cell phone drivers say they would not quit calling even if they caused a crash”

Protect Yourself from Red Light Runners & Distracted Drivers

This video is a classic example of someone who doesn’t even notice that a traffic light has been on red for a significant time.

Such behavior is commonly indicative of distracted driving.  Bear in mind that hard braking or swerving under these sort of circumstances might stop your car being hit by the red light runner but equally might result in you having a collision with a third vehicle.  So the rather obvious question is how do you and/or your employees protect yourselves from being in a collision in any circumstances similar to this if — in this instance — you are one of the drivers who is making a left turn?

Such issues are just one small but important part of our multi-faceted defensive and advanced driving courses at Advanced Drivers of North America, Inc.  Contact us for more details.

The video is courtesy of the City of Lakewood, WA, where this incident was filmed.