Time to Walk the Talk

By Theresa Wells

It is increasingly troubling to hear news of pedestrians being struck by vehicles in this community. It seems to be happening with shocking frequency, and while a great deal has been said and written about pedestrian safety from the viewpoint of the responsibility of the driver I think far too little has been said about the responsibility of the pedestrians. In a car-pedestrian collision the one who has the most to lose is almost certainly the one on foot, as thousands of pounds of steel are an unfair match for the fragile human body, and the injuries likely to occur are horrific. So how is it we still have pedestrians in this town who jaywalk, cross against the lights, ignore oncoming traffic, and, worst of all, dress almost entirely in black even when it is pitch dark outside and street lighting is poor?

I will admit I almost hit someone some time ago.  They emerged out of the darkness on an unlit and unmarked corner, dressed in a black jacket, black pants and carrying a black backpack. They were almost in front of me when I screeched to a stop, panicked at almost having struck a person, but as awful as I felt I could not help but feel a flash of anger towards them, too, because they seemed so cavalier about their own safety and their role in ensuring they were not struck.

We live in one of the most safety-conscious communities I have ever seen. Before I lived here I was unfamiliar with terms like “safety meetings”, “three points of contact” and PPE. We live in a town of trucks that beep incessantly when they reverse, people who back into their own driveways and an almost obsessive need to dissect situations for safety issues – so how is it we still have pedestrians who ignore some of the most basic rules of the road to ensure their own safety?

I recognize that we also have drivers who are distracted, intoxicated and otherwise negligent, but to pretend that the pedestrian is never responsible in any way is a great disservice to ourselves and ignores a huge part of the problem. Pedestrians who jaywalk, who cross in places that are poorly lit, who choose to wear dark clothing late at night and in bad weather are putting themselves at tremendous risk.

I must admit I don’t get it. We teach very young children pedestrian safety, but as adults we seem to think it is our right to not only forget it entirely but to do the exact opposite of what we have taught our own children. We somehow think we can do so with impunity, never needing to fear the consequences, and we ignore that we are seeing a startling number of pedestrians being struck by vehicles. Are the pedestrians to blame in these incidents? I won’t speculate, but I know that every evening on my own street I see individuals breaking the basic rules of pedestrian safety and it concerns me deeply.

There are some very fundamental rules to be a safe pedestrian and avoid being struck by a vehicle: If you are walking at night, wear brightly coloured clothing, not dark, so you increase your visibility to drivers. Try to cross at marked and well-lit crosswalks (and do not jaywalk or walk out between vehicles to cross a street). Look both ways before crossing. Be aware of the traffic around you. Pay attention to traffic signals. Don’t assume the drivers have seen you – if possible make eye contact with them and in fact assume they do not see you. And finally recognize your own responsibility in your safety, because at the end of the day – and the end of the crosswalk – getting to your destination safely depends just as much on you as it does the drivers around you.

It’s time to open the dialogue on the role of pedestrians in pedestrian safety. We are pretty stellar at talking the talk about safety in this community, but I think the time has come for us to begin to walk the talk on pedestrian safety – literally.


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