I was recently in the same hotel for an entire week, which was quite unusual for me as I’m usually in and out of places in a couple of days. I took the opportunity to do some pedestrian traffic safety research by walking for several miles each afternoon, foraging for food once my work day was over.
I would walk a couple of miles in any direction from the hotel, to whichever restaurant I had chosen. In doing so, it was necessary to use four or five light-controlled pedestrian crosswalks along the way.
When I started on this little pedestrian project, I thought I knew what I would see in the way of distracted drivers and possible dangers. But the percentage of drivers looking at, talking to or manipulating their smartphones surprised even me, especially when walking back to the hotel in the dark; smartphone screens illuminated the faces of many a distracted driver. This is a massive change in driver behavior from just a few years ago, and is incredibly dangerous.
The good thing about walking? It’s much easier to observe traffic and driver behavior. I had another person helping me and both of us looked for distracted drivers. We also started counting the number of drivers and passengers not wearing seatbelts after we realized how many drivers and passengers were not using them.
Not wearing a seatbelt in this day and age is just ridiculous. I hope every driver reading this wears one, no matter if you are sitting in the front or back. Testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has found that a driver who has a passenger without their seatbelt on sitting behind them is twice as likely to die in an accident, even if they have their own seatbelt on.
Over the years, I have seen a direct relationship between parents not wearing a seatbelt and their son or daughter not wearing one once they are old enough to drive. Please parents; always wear your seatbelt, for your safety, the safety of your children and any other passengers you may have in your vehicle.
On my way to dinner, I arrived at my first crosswalk at a large, four-way traffic signal-controlled intersection. Over my left shoulder, I saw that the intersecting road had a right turn lane, which is very common at traffic signal-controlled intersections. We waited on the sidewalk for more than a minute until we got a safe crossing light and the accompanying beeping sound. During my wait, I saw over my left shoulder at least 15 cars come to the red light in the right turn lane. (All the intersections on our walk allowed right turn on red.)
Out of the 15 vehicles we saw in this instance, 13 of them came to the intersection and never completely stopped. While still rolling, they glanced left, saw no vehicle in the intersection and just drove on, passing us by without looking towards the crosswalk sign or to where we were standing. They also never gave more than a glance up the road for approaching traffic at the intersection. This resulted in many drivers pulling directly in front of an approaching vehicle, causing them to brake to avoid a rear-end impact.
After seeing this, I figured it would not be smart to just walk when the walk sign and audio beeps came on. So, when the walk sign came on, I looked over my left shoulder again and saw more cars coming down the right turn lane. Sure enough, they never looked towards us or at the blinking crosswalk sign, even though several of us were waiting to cross. It took about three or four vehicles before a right-turning car finally stopped and we could cross safely. You can guess what happened next; the vehicle behind the stopped car immediately laid on their horn, not having a clue why they had been forced to stop. It seemed waiting a few seconds to allow pedestrians to safely cross was too much for them.
It was interesting to note how experienced walkers around us all seemed to know that vehicles in the right turn lane would probably not look for us or would ignore the walk sign. These experienced folks waited until they knew turning vehicles were paying attention to them before crossing. Too many other walkers were looking down at their cell phones and would just start to cross when the walk sign or beep came on, not even looking up or left, and sometimes getting very close to being hit. Some distracted walkers stopped after being warned by us more attentive folks to look out and wait. Please keep your head and eyes up and scan around for vehicles whenever you’re crossing a road.
Even though these drivers were negotiating a right turn at a busy intersection, I could see most of them were instead focused on their phone calls or were looking at or manipulating their smartphones. A brief glance left is all they could bring themselves to do before making the right turn on red. All drivers know this is very dangerous driving behavior and, in too many cases these days, lethal to pedestrians. Not to mention the dangers to people who are sight impaired or completely blind. They are 100 percent dependent on the audio tones they hear at crosswalks, which signal to them that it is safe to cross. They are very vulnerable to these distracted drivers.
Please look for pedestrians and cyclists wherever you drive, but especially around intersections and crosswalks. Stay safe everyone, have patience and look out for each other.