D. Gilson is a writer and author of essays, poetry, and scholarship that explore the relationship between popular culture, literature, sexuality, and memoir. His latest book is Jesus Freak, with Will Stockton, part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 Series. His other books include I Will Say This Exactly One Time and Crush. His first chapbook, Catch & Release, won the 2012 Robin Becker Prize from Seve...

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer

UPDATED: Jul 19, 2021

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Car crashes are a sad fact of everyday life in America, but when a car or truck makes contact with a pedestrian, although it’s still deemed a motor vehicle accident, the outcome is usually devastating for the pedestrian involved. In fact, we live in a culture where driver legislation and the design of our roads favor drivers, treating pedestrian safety as secondary.

Pedestrian deaths are actually on the rise in recent years, but so are the instances of people who walk according to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). This means the problem is going to get worse if our behaviors don’t change.

Road traffic accidents are the 13th greatest killer in the U.S.A., resulting in 35,000 fatalities per year. With the improvements being made to traffic engineering and generally safer cars, that number has been rapidly decreasing, but 12 percent of those fatalities involve pedestrians, and that number is going up in many major cities, not down.

How Can Drivers and Pedestrians Improve The Statistics?

The fact is that attitudes and actions on the parts of both drivers and pedestrians add to the threat of more collisions, but there is also a lack of knowledge about the rules and an unwillingness to obey them. Safety officials say that something near 75 percent of pedestrian accidents are due to the wrong behavior of the pedestrian, however, aggressive drivers make up the majority of represented vehicles that end up hitting a pedestrian. In short, drivers who present a higher risk to pedestrians also present a higher risk to other drivers, and pedestrians play a role in risk as well.

What are some practical things both drivers and walkers can do to increase their chances for staying away from accidents? Since we must try to peaceably co-exist, these tips can work as a refresher course to increase our awareness.

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How Can Pedestrians Stay Safe?

Not all accidents are black and white. Pedestrians are the ones who will suffer the most serious injuries, but they are not helpless. In many accidents, pedestrian can do more to avoid it. Depending on the severity, police may even find the pedestrian at fault, which would mean the driver’s insurance would not cover your injuries. Some are so simple they may surprise you.

Walk on the Sidewalk: It may seem obvious that you’re safer on the sidewalk. You might be surprised at how often pedestrians walk on the road (not on a crosswalk). Avoid walking on streets or in areas where there are no sidewalks or crosswalks. Most pedestrian fatalities occur on major roads with no sidewalk. So avoid walking on them as much as possible.

Walk Facing Traffic: When you have to walk in the street because there is no sidewalk available, walk facing the traffic – on the left side of the street. Make sure to stay visible, but as far over as you can. This might seem counter-intuitive, but experts say that both you and the approaching driver will have a better chance of seeing each other if you do.

Cross at Intersections: Another major danger of being hit by cars is when people cross in places other than intersections on the road. Make sure you cross only at intersections, and if there’s a light, only when you have the signal to walk. You should not try to cross when traffic coming towards you has a green light.

Stop and Look Both Ways: When you stop at a curb, it alerts drivers that you are about to cross. Don’t just keep walking assuming they’ll stop. If a driver doesn’t stop, they may be responsible for personal injury, but you’ll be the one spending weeks in the hospital. Always look left, right, then left again before you cross.

Make Eye Contact: When you are about to cross the street in front of a car, look at the driver and make eye contact. If you don’t there’s a good chance the driver doesn’t see you. Avoid standing in the blind spot of the driver and if it’s getting dark out, wear bright colors or carry a flashlight.

Watch Your Kids: Children can move fast and unpredictably. Do not allow your children to cross streets unsupervised. When you’re with your kids crossing the street, teach them about stopping at the corner and looking left, right and left again before crossing.

How Can Drivers Be Safer?

When you pay for auto insurance, you think of the peace of mind of knowing you’ll be covered in an accident with another car. With more pedestrians around, drivers need to be aware of all their surroundings. Some of the things drivers can do to be safer are also much simpler than you might think.

Yield When Crossing a Driveway: When entering an alley or driveway, make sure no pedestrians are walking by at the time before you enter. This holds true for pedestrians in store parking lots – remember, sometimes they just shoot out of the store and head for their cars without looking.

Yield When Pedestrians Cross the Street: Some may be crossing on a crosswalk or intersection, but pay special attention when there are no such crossing facilities available.

Watch for Stopped Vehicles: Do not stop or overtake a vehicle simply because it’s stopped in front of you. Chances are the car is waiting for a pedestrian to cross in front of it, putting you on a trajectory for trouble. This holds true for ice cream trucks and buses especially. Life insurance agents deal with this type of accident every day.

Increase Your Eye Scanning: Don’t just pay attention to the cars around you, but increase your scanning for possible pedestrian and bike traffic. To help in this effort, keep your windshield clean so you can see everything going on around your car.

Be Careful When Turning Left: Pedestrians and cyclists are four times more likely to be hit by a vehicle that is turning left. So it’s wise to be four times more careful before you turn left to look for oncoming pedestrians first. This could be because of limited visibility or drivers being in a rush once they start turning left. It never hurts to check twice.

Watch Out for Children: Young children have very little awareness of where sounds are coming from and don’t have the focus and attention needed to navigate around traffic. When children are present, drive slowly and carefully.

Slow Down: If you hit a pedestrian going 40 mph, chances are slim that the person will survive the accident. If pedestrians are present, keep the speed as low as possible. This will improve your chances of stopping before hitting a pedestrian at all.

Be Aware of the Stats: Avoid the top causes of pedestrian accidents…

1) Mid-block dart out
2) Intersection dash
3) Vehicle turn or merge
4) Stopped vehicle at crosswalk blocking view
5) Backing up
6) Bus related
7) Vendor (ice cream truck, etc.) related

Remember, simply obeying laws or knowing your “rights” is never enough to avoid being involved in an accident. We need to increase our awareness and adjust our attitude as well. It takes increased knowledge, emotional control and wisdom to make judgments when it comes to pedestrian safety – whether in the driver’s seat or on our feet.