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Pedestrian Safety: Tips and Overview

Navigating busy roads as a pedestrian can be very dangerous if you aren’t careful. According to data released by the Governors Highway Safety Association, an estimated 6,590 pedestrians across the U.S. were killed in traffic accidents in 2019; that is the highest number recorded in more than 30 years.

Factors that are believed to contribute to this overall rise in pedestrian fatalities include a need for safer road crossings, unsafe driving behaviors, and an increase in distracted driving attributed to growing smartphone use. Travelling on foot can be particularly dangerous in congested cities where most residents are encouraged to walk in order to get to the subway, bus, or to the nearest major intersection to hail a cab to get where they need to go.

New York City, for example, is the only major city in the United States where a majority of residents do not own cars. According to the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), only 45 percent of households citywide own a car. Among those that do own a car, only few use them on their daily commutes; only 27 percent of workers commute via car, truck, or van. New York is a prime example of a city where citizens rely heavily on pedestrian safety day in and day out.

Dangers of Walking in the City

The large number of pedestrians in some major cities comes at a cost. Pedestrians are injured or killed in collisions with cars and other motor vehicles far too often. For instance, in NYC, more than 10,200 pedestrians were injured and more than 120 died in traffic crashes in 2019 alone, according to the NYC Vision Zero map. While certain efforts have been made by local government to combat city traffic collisions through the Vision Zero initiative, it is clear that plenty of work still needs to be done to bring the number of injuries down to zero.

The best way to stay safe while navigating the streets as a pedestrian is by staying aware of your surroundings and obeying traffic rules. Pedestrians have as much of a responsibility as drivers do to obey the laws that keep themselves and those around them safe.

As a pedestrian, it is incredibly important to take safety seriously while walking through roadways; pedestrians are 10 times more likely to die than vehicle occupants in traffic collisions according to the NY Department of Transportation (NY DOT). Knowing the rules of the road and following safe practices can prevent potential catastrophic injury.

Tips for Accident Prevention

Obey traffic signs and signals.

There are a variety of traffic signs and signals that are meant to guide the flow of vehicle and foot traffic on roadways. These signals provide safe crossing periods for pedestrians and signal to motorists when people are crossing the road. By adhering to these traffic signals, pedestrians run a significantly lower risk of being struck by oncoming traffic.

It is important for pedestrians to know the meanings of each signal. For example, a very common pedestrian signal is the WALK and DON’T WALK signal placed at crosswalks. These signals may also use an image of a walking person and an upraised hand to represent “walk” and “don’t walk,” respectively. When a steady WALK sign is displayed, it means pedestrians can begin to cross the street in the direction of the signal. When a flashing DON’T WALK signal is shown, pedestrians should not begin to cross but those who are already in the road can finish crossing. A steady DON’T WALK signal means pedestrians cannot legally enter the roadway.

Understanding how signs and signals control traffic is very important for overall pedestrian safety.

Use crosswalks to cross the street.

Crossing the road in areas where cars are not expecting to see pedestrians can be very dangerous. According to the CDC, a large number of pedestrian deaths occur at non-intersection locations. Designated crosswalks are the safest place to cross a road.

Crosswalks are areas indicated for pedestrian crossing by lines or other markings on the pavement. Crosswalks can also be identified as any part of the road at an intersection between opposing curbs; this area is considered a crosswalk whether or not it is marked. When there is no marked crosswalk, the safest place to cross the street is at an intersection.

When using a crosswalk, pedestrians should wait to cross until traffic moving in the direction they are crossing has the green light, so they can cross in front of the stopped traffic. If the crosswalk is located in an area that is not controlled by traffic signals or signs, then drivers should yield the right of way to pedestrians.

Make yourself visible to drivers at all times.

As a pedestrian, you should ensure that you’re visible to the drivers around you. When walking in conditions where there is low visibility, such as at night or in heavy rain or fog, try to wear brighter clothing, ideally clothing with made with reflective materials. You can also make yourself seen by holding a flashlight as you walk.

When crossing the street, be sure to cross in well-lit areas and never begin crossing in front of a parked vehicle. Additionally, anytime you cross the road, make eye contact with drivers to make sure that they see you crossing. Distracted drivers may not notice pedestrians attempting to cross.

Avoid dangerous situations.

Always walk on the sidewalk when there is one available. If there is no sidewalk, walk on the side of the road facing oncoming traffic so you can see the vehicles approaching.

Never assume a vehicle will stop for you; drivers may not be paying attention. Distracted driving claimed the lives of more than 400 pedestrians in the U.S. in 2018. Before crossing in front of a vehicle, make eye contact with the driver to ensure they see you and will stop for you. Likewise, pay attention to the vehicles around you when walking in parking lots or near on-street parking spaces. Don’t assume that a driver backing out of a parking space will see you and stop.

Stay alert.

When traveling on foot, you should be using your eyes and ears to pay attention to your surroundings. Do not cross the street while looking down at your phone or while playing loud music on your headphones. It is important to be able to scan the road for vehicles before crossing and to listen for cars or other vehicles that may be approaching quickly.

With this in mind, it is also important to stay sober when navigating roadways. Being under the influence impairs your judgement which increases the risk of being struck by a vehicle.

Pedestrian Safety Initiatives in New York

Drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists should all be aware of traffic laws in their state, especially laws pertaining to right-of-way. The NY DOT provides detailed information on the laws that must be followed, such as drivers’ responsibility to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks and on sidewalks.

Since 2014, New York City’s government has been implementing the Vision Zero Action Plan which aims at decreasing the number of traffic accidents citywide. According to the Vision Zero website, more than 3,000 New Yorkers are seriously injured in traffic crashes each year. These are preventable accidents that can be avoided through proper engineering, city planning, and education. Since its inception, Vision Zero has succeeded in:

  • Expanded enforcement of traffic laws
  • Redesigned streets for increased safety
  • Increased penalties for dangerous driving
  • Launched public awareness campaigns aimed at keeping New Yorkers informed on traffic safety laws
  • Installed more than 28 miles of protected bike lanes

Though these efforts have succeeded in lowering the overall number of pedestrian fatalities, this work cannot stop until unnecessary pedestrian accidents come to an end.

Legal Representation for Injured Pedestrians

Pedestrian accidents can have devastating consequences for those involved. Victims can be left with costly medical bills, lost wages from an inability to return to work, and a high degree of pain and suffering.

An attorney who has a deep understanding of traffic laws can guide you through the legal process of filing a lawsuit against the negligent parties responsible for your injuries. The lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy have a proven track record representing clients in pedestrian accident cases.

Notable case results for pedestrians injured in auto accidents include:

To discuss a possible case with one of our lawyers, please call 212-736-5300 or fill out our contact form online. We serve New York and New Jersey.

Free Initial Case Review

Fill out our short online contact form for a FREE, immediate case review, or call us locally at 212-736-5300 today. The lawyers in our firm work on a contingency basis, so we do not collect any money unless we win your case.