Your arm flashes out in front of, and across the body of, the person walking next to you. You slam on your own personal brakes, locking up your feet and knees to an abrupt stop. Adrenaline rushes to a prickly sensation in your skin. A near miss by a driver unaware, or who doesn’t care, that you are crossing the street in front of them, maybe in a crosswalk, maybe at a four way stop, maybe from your house to the neighbor’s across the street. The dangers of being a pedestrian are real. The hazards increased by distracted driving, speed, impatience, driving under the influence and the lack of courtesy to our fellow humans.
Statistics just released by the National Transportation Safety Highway Administration confirm that the dangers of being a pedestrian are real. The number of pedestrians killed in this country in 2018 was 6,283. That same year, here in California 893 pedestrians lost their lives crossing the street. The number of pedestrian deaths is up from years past.
I walk a lot during the day, sometimes on the way to lunch with staff, sometimes conducting a meeting outside rather than in an office. I pay attention to moving vehicles propelling toward us at speeds of 35 to 45 miles per hour. I make eye contact with drivers who either don’t see me or pretend not to see me. There is little respect for pedestrians as they step off the sidewalk and into a crosswalk. Drivers show more respect for a bird or squirrel that is in their path than a person.
Don’t get me wrong, pedestrians have a responsibility too, to look both ways, know when it is safe to cross, not to dart out into the street unexpectedly, not to be distracted by text messages, conversations, day dreams, what’s streaming through their earbuds or the false sense of security of crossing a street with a large group of people.
With the number of daylight hours decreasing, I urge drivers to be more aware of the “commuters” on foot. Pedestrians are not mere inconveniences slowing the pace of your trip. They are children, moms, dads, sisters, brothers, grandparents, infants in strollers.
I recently exchanged glares and words with a driver whose opinion was, I was not walking fast enough across the street in front of him at a four way stop. He actually got out of his vehicle, shouted profanities and threatened me and the person I was walking with, with physical violence. Make no mistake, I’m a tall man with a large stride and I don’t purposely dilly-dally. This younger, impatient man driving was out on foot now, ready to throw punches. This type of encounter is not rare.
Another pedestrian reports that an impatient driver so focused on the slower car in front of her, blasted and blasted her horn. When the driver in front found it safe to make a turn, the impatient driver was unaware the signal had changed and a pedestrian was now crossing in the crosswalk in front of her vehicle. Totally oblivious to all things that were not her. The impatient driver than shouted words at the pedestrian. The pedestrian had the right-away at a crosswalk signal.
Many steps can be taken to improve pedestrian safety. Flashing lights that line crosswalks, pedestrian detection technology in vehicles, better lighting, lower speed limits, less street side parking near crosswalks, fewer driver side tinted windows in which pedestrians can’t make eye contact with drivers. But technology might not make the difference if we as people don’t gain more respect for one another.
As drivers and pedestrians, let’s share the road, let’s be patient, let’s share a smile, share a wave of thanks or hello. It’s what we as drivers and pedestrians can do as safety administrations work on improvements. It’s a step in the right direction!