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Crosswalk Catastrophes

Crosswalk Catastrophes

ERIC E. SEMAN
Base Safety Directorate
Marine Corps Base, Kaneohe, Hawaii

As I’ve gotten older — and the voice of my doctor insisting I eat less and move more echoes through my brain in that accusatory, yet authoritarian, tone of hers — I often find myself wandering my neighborhood in Asics cross-trainers, a sweaty T-shirt and a sun-bleached Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap. Since I am lucky enough to live in an area with year-round nice weather, I have eschewed the treadmill and opted to trek the sidewalks near my home. Now that I am spending more time as a pedestrian, I’ve discovered many drivers do not respect foot travelers (surprise!).

In the midst of one of my weekend exercise sessions, I was facing traffic and walking toward an intersection. Our neighborhood intersections are generally nicely equipped with unobstructed stop signs; wide, bright, highly visible stop lines; and white-painted crosswalks. This intersection is no exception.

I looked to my left to see a car coming down the hill with its right turn signal flashing. Through the windshield I noticed two young girls in the backseat, what I assumed was their mother staring stoically forward in the passenger seat and a grim-faced father driving. I presumed the foursome was running late for some event and the adults in the vehicle were none too pleased at their tardiness.

Rather than looking ahead like his spouse, the driver was intently concentrating to the left. As the car slowed, I caught the eye of the mom and we smiled at each other. Dad was still staring up the cross street, seemingly unconcerned with the world outside the passenger-side door. I put my foot on the first white stripe of the crosswalk and stopped. The car continued to roll through the stop line, into the crosswalk and then came to a stop, missing my foot by just a few inches.

At this point, my emotions took over. I know I was wrong, but I slammed my open hand on the car’s hood right in front of the mom, which got the driver’s attention. As he snapped his head around to see what the noise was, I pointed and yelled, “Hey! The stop sign is back there!” We had a short, heated discussion that included a couple of words he would need to explain to his daughters at some point in the near future. But I’m fairly certain I got my point across to him.

My point is that a vehicle versus a pedestrian is not a fair fight. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) estimated there were 7,508 pedestrian fatalities in 2022, the most since 1981. And that number is likely even higher, as Oklahoma, which averaged 92 pedestrian fatalities over the three prior years, was unable to provide data for 2022. Between 2010 and 2021, pedestrian fatalities increased by 77 percent in the U.S. According to the GHSA, some law enforcement agencies in California conduct “sting” operations “where officers in plain clothes cross at a crosswalk, identify drivers who do not yield the right of way and radio to another officer stationed ahead who stops the driver.” Law enforcement in several other states and the District of Columbia use similar pedestrian decoy tactics.

After an encounter with a pedestrian, the driver will almost inevitably say something like, “I never saw them.” The human brain can only process so much. Combine high speeds, traffic signs, billboards, loud music, children in the backseat, cellphones and any other distraction and something’s got to give. No wonder they never saw the pedestrian.

The reality is the human brain is a supercomputer and our eyes are merely the monitor for that computer. The raw images entering the eyeball are actually heavily processed and edited versions of the world. Without the brain, the world would look upside down. There is a blind spot where the optic nerve attaches to the back of the eyeball, and the view of the periphery would be out of focus and somewhat colorless. The brain has a remarkable ability to fill in those blanks. However, it can also unconsciously remove detail, which could come in the form of a pedestrian.

As much as drivers do not plan to hit a pedestrian, it still happens. Pedestrians should be aware of drivers’ shortcomings and their remarkable, yet flawed, brains. While it is true that using a crosswalk is the safest option by far to make it across the street, it is only paint. Stay safe out there.

Did You Know?

According to U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center statistics, since FY19, at least 27 Soldiers died in pedestrian mishaps, averaging five fatalities per year. The majority of these incidents occurred during hours of darkness. Nothing can be done for these Soldiers. However, you don’t have to join them in the Preliminary Loss Reports. Here are some safety tips for when you’re traveling on foot:

  • Always walk on the sidewalk. If there is no sidewalk and you must walk in the roadway, always walk facing traffic.
  • Dress to be noticed by motorists. Wearing bright or light-colored clothing helps drivers see you. Reflective clothing is best, but never assume drivers can or have seen you.
  • Cross streets only at marked crosswalks or intersections.
  • If crossing a multilane roadway, pedestrians should visually clear each lane as they proceed.
  • If a car is parked where you are trying to cross, look for other drivers who may be pulling out and not see you because they are looking for traffic.
  • Remember that telephone poles, utility boxes and parked vehicles block an oncoming driver’s ability to see you.
  • Look LEFT – RIGHT – LEFT in countries like the United States, where motorists drive on the right side of the street. In Japan or other nations where drivers use the left side of the road, look RIGHT – LEFT – RIGHT prior to entering the street.
  • Give drivers ample time to stop before entering the crosswalk.
  • Crossing at locations with traffic signals helps motorists see you.
  • Wearing headphones while walking, jogging, bicycling or riding a motorcycle on post is prohibited. If you choose to wear headphones off post, always remove them while crossing the street so you can hear approaching traffic.
  • Always hold a child by the hand while crossing a street. Remember, walk — don’t run.
  • If the intersection has a pedestrian walk button, press it and cross when cleared to go, keeping in mind that all crosswalks do not allow the same amount of time to cross.

For additional information and safety products, including a variety of tools and resources such as printable pedestrian safety and emergency roadside assistance brochures and posters, visit https://safety.army.mil/OFF-DUTY/Pedestrian.

  • 21 April 2024
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 227
  • Comments: 0
Categories: Off-DutyPMV-4
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