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Nine pedestrians hit in 45 minutes: A big problem

Published December 11, 2012
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Headlines were made recently after 9 pedestrians were struck within a 45 minute period. They all occurred during the early morning rush hour.

Pedestrians blame motorists, motorists blame pedestrians and the media and police blame the poor conditions.

Traffic services police Const. Clint Stibbe is quoted in the Star as saying, “This is actually our worst period of time in the year – when we see the most pedestrians struck. It’s a combination of weather conditions, as well as lighting conditions meaning obviously the time of day, additionally the lack of visibility on behalf of pedestrians”.

That is only part of the problem.

What we have here is a failure to see and be seen.

The fault is not with the time of year or the lack of ambient light nor the weather. The fault lies squarely with the drivers and pedestrians.

Motorists and truckers need to be more vigilant in looking for pedestrians, vehicles or any object or that matter. I have heard some motorists shrug off this extra attention on their part by saying the pedestrian needs to be more careful. Even though the pedestrian is always the loser in a vehicle-person collision, no one wants to live with the memory of that “thud of the impact” or the vision of a body bouncing off the windshield as the psychological trauma that usually accompanies a horrific event such as hitting a pedestrian. It can scar a driver for life as well as take a life.

As well, pedestrians also need to be smarter about travelling anywhere near traffic. Just as with the complacent attitude exhibited by some drivers, I have heard pedestrians and cyclists saying motorists need to give them more respect. Even though that is true, pedestrians and cyclists should always expect the worst from motorists and hope for the best. Pedestrians always come out on the losing end of a confrontation with two tons of steel and plastic.

With the unfortunate lack of adequate driver training and testing in North America and the cavalier attitude of many motorists toward their driving responsibilities, pedestrians and cyclists need to be thinking of self-preservation all the time.

How can we help reduce the carnage on our streets as our driving environment changes? Motorists can do a lot more to help themselves see pedestrians. For many motorists the commute to and from work is now happening in darkness rather than in light as during the non-winter months. Visibility is reduced just from the lack of ambient light.

Here is what you can do whether you are a motorist, pedestrian or both:

 Pay attention to your driving. Stay focused on traffic situations. Allowing yourself to be distracted by conversations whether in car or on a cell phone or by day dreaming will mean you are not processing vital driving information such as pedestrian traffic.

Turn down the brightness of your instrument panel. Many motorists have it set on full bright. This shines more light into the drivers eyes and reduces the ability to pick up reflected light from objects outside the vehicle. There is always a dimmer switch for your instrument panel. Your owner’s manual will locate it for you.

Turn off your GPS. This is another source of light that will reduce the drivers night vision by glowing in the drivers line of sight. These extra sources of light cause the drivers pupil to reduce in size and limits the night vision ability of the eye. Most drivers know where they are going when commuting to and from work. They have driven that route thousands of times and a GPS is simply not needed.

Do the “A pillar head shuffle.” This is a technique we teach in our advanced driver training. Most vehicles have large blind spots where the A-pillar is located. This A-pillar is the post between the windshield and side window that supports the vehicle’s roof. In modern vehicles these pillars are quite thick producing a large blind spot. By shuffling your head from side to side to see around the A-pillar, you can spot pedestrians in these blind spots.

Look left, then right, then back to the left and right again. This “double take” is needed to be sure you have seen everything when you enter an intersection. A one-time glance left and right does not always allow you to see everything. Do the double take.

Slow down! Slowing down will give you more time to react, more time to process driving information and much shorter stopping distances. It also greatly reduces the force of any impact should you collide with another vehicle or person. When you encounter an intersection or crosswalk, slow down and expect the worst.

 Keep two hands on the steering wheel. Should you need to brake a swerve to avoid a collision, two hands on the wheel can help reduce the likelihood of over correcting and losing control.

Pedestrians can do a lot to help themselves survive the commute. They should make sure they can be seen by all motorists.

Always stay focused on the dangers of crossing into traffic. Cellphones and iPods are known to distract pedestrians to the point where they have walked into trains at crossings, walked into traffic and even water fountains. I have experienced pedestrians walking directly into the path of my car while they were distracted by electronic devices. Lucky for them I was aware and ready for it.

Wear clothing that doesn’t mask your existence. Dark clothing makes it much more difficult to be seen by truckers, motorists and cyclists. Being “Ninja stealthy” while crossing a street is not very bright. Unfortunately dark clothing in winter might be stylish but silly. I would rather be bright-coloured and alive than stylish and mangled.

Do not expect motorists or truckers to stop. There is a good chance they are distracted and may not even see you. Never assume even if you have the green light or flashing yellows or a crosswalk that all traffic will stop. Drivers are notorious for missing traffic information.

Make eye contact with the driver to be sure they have seen you. If you can’t see them look right at you, assume you haven’t been seen. Even after eye contact be careful as the driver could have experienced motion blindness.

Look both ways before crossing the street and then keep looking in case you missed something. Continue to scan the intersection until you are safely on  the sidewalk.

If driver and pedestrians practice these simple steps, we won’t be reading headlines in the Star about senseless pedestrian–vehicle collisions.

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