Cars and Pedestrians: A Conflict Where Both Sides Lose
If we’re in a hurry, it can be easy to get frustrated with pedestrians who dawdle in the crosswalk or start crossing in the middle of the street without even looking first. When we’re on foot, however, suddenly it’s the people behind the wheel who seem aggressive, inconsiderate, or entitled—backing up without checking, stopping in the crosswalk, or creeping around the corner before we’ve had a chance to clear the intersection. But while the relationship between drivers and pedestrians can sometimes be contentious, there’s one thing that both groups can agree upon: crashes suck!
For pedestrians, the dangers that vehicles present are obvious: because pedestrians are infinitely more vulnerable to cars than cars are to pedestrians, the threat of getting hit carries serious consequences. Even at low speeds, a car that strikes a pedestrian is likely to cause injury, and this type of collision is particularly likely to be fatal. In fact, 4,735 pedestrians were killed in collisions in 2013. Moreover, in the same year:
- Pedestrians were involved in only 1.2% of all crashes, but represented 5% of all crash fatalities
- Pedestrians were 13 times more likely to be killed if they were involved in a collision than the average for all road users
- While less than 30% of all collisions reported to the police resulted in injury or death, someone was injured or killed in over 95% of those collisions with a pedestrian involved.
On the other hand, while drivers are rarely injured seriously in collisions with pedestrians, they have plenty of other reasons to avoid them. For one thing, if you end up hitting a pedestrian because you were in a rush, you’re going to end up running much later than if you’d driven more carefully. In addition, you’re going to have to deal with the cost of vehicle repairs, increased insurance rates, and potential legal consequences including fines, imprisonment, and the loss of your license. And of course, if you’re a decent person, you’re also certain to feel terrible about any injuries you caused because you weren’t a little more attentive to that person crossing the street.
With that in mind, we’ve put together this list of the situations where drivers are most likely to run into a pedestrian. By understanding why vehicle-pedestrian collisions occur, you can be better prepared to avoid an unwanted outcome—whether you’re on foot or behind the wheel.
How Crashes Between Cars and Pedestrians Happen
The first rule for dealing with pedestrians is one all drivers should be familiar with: you must yield the right-of-way to avoid a collision. Sure, some pedestrians break the law, crossing in the middle of the street or when a traffic signal tells them not to. Nevertheless, when we’re on the road, it’s not our job to teach lawbreakers a lesson; rather, our responsibility is to do all that we can to help everyone get where they’re going safely. Besides, pedestrians are often more ignorant about traffic laws than drivers are, so it’s common courtesy to be patient with them when they make mistakes.
The truth is that it’s not hard to predict when collisions between cars and pedestrians will occur. They typically happen when the driver can’t see the pedestrian or the pedestrian enters the roadway suddenly. By paying extra attention and being especially cautious in such situations, we can more effectively fulfill our duty to share the road safely.
- The “Dart Out”: In 2013, nearly 70% of pedestrian fatalities happened when the pedestrian entered the roadway somewhere other than an intersection. Often, these crashes occur because the pedestrian remains hidden behind a car or other obstacle until the last minute, making it impossible for the driver to stop in time. To avoid these crashes, always proceed carefully whenever you see pedestrians on the sidewalk, and especially when driving in areas where children playing may suddenly run into the roadway.
- The “Dash”: Even pedestrians crossing at intersections can cause problems. Impatient or inattentive pedestrians may try to rush through the crosswalk when a “Don’t Walk” signal is displayed, giving drivers a limited amount of time to respond. On a green light, always wait for the intersection to clear before you proceed; otherwise, you may hit a pedestrian or trap them in the middle of the street with no safe way to get out of danger.
- The “Grid Locker”: Drivers can also make it unsafe for pedestrians crossing the street if they stop their car within the crosswalk, forcing people on foot to walk around them and potentially into the path of another driver. Never stop in a crosswalk or try to enter an intersection if there isn’t enough space on the other side for you to clear it completely. You can be ticketed for endangering pedestrians and other drivers in this way.
- The “Bus Rider”: Collisions between cars and pedestrians often take place near bus stops or stopped school buses. For instance, riders may get off the bus and immediately cross in front of it, concealing them from drivers approaching along the bus’s left side. This is also a problem around food trucks, ice cream trucks, and other vendors parked on the side of the road. Always pass these vehicles with caution and remember—it’s illegal to pass a stopped school bus with its lights flashing (unless the driver signals that you may proceed).
- The “Impatient Pass”: If you see a car stopped at a crosswalk or intersection or in the middle of the road and can’t figure out why, slow down and look around: the other driver may be stopped to let someone cross the street. Drivers who pass without first making sure the road ahead is clear may end up running into a pedestrian.
- The “Careless Turn”: Drivers can be especially lax about checking the crosswalk before turning right, as this maneuver can generally be made without having to interact with any cross traffic. But pedestrians often begin to cross at the same time drivers begin to turn, setting up a potentially deadly conflict. Before turning, drivers must carefully search the entire driving environment and be prepared to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.
- The “Hasty Reverse”: If you need to back up to leave a driveway or parking space, always check behind your car before you get in and look over your shoulder as you make the maneuver. If you’re not paying attention, and there’s a pedestrian walking behind your car that isn’t paying attention either, a crash may be the result. Because of their small size, dozens of children are killed every year in this type of collision.
- The “Curb Hugger”: Sometimes a pedestrian will walk or jog along the side of the road because there’s no sidewalk or they’re on a lightly-traveled roadway. Frequently, such pedestrians will be out close to dawn or dusk, making it harder to see them, and they may also be wearing headphones and listening to music, obscuring the sounds of oncoming cars. As a result, the pedestrian and driver may not notice each other until it’s too late.
- The “Texter”: When you’re driving, the only thing you should be paying attention to is the road. Whether they’re behind the wheel or on foot, a distracted road user is a threat to everyone else on the road. By ignoring your cell phone and other potential distractions, you’re less likely to run into someone who wasn’t so conscientious!
A Driver’s Responsibility to Pedestrians
As a driver, your first priority must always be reducing the risk of injury and death—both to yourself and to others. When it comes to interacting with pedestrians, this means always being more attentive in areas where you may encounter them (such as intersections, parking lots, and school zones) and being prepared to yield even when you believe you have the right-of-way.
We’re all pedestrians sometimes, so whenever you drive, remember to treat walkers with the same consideration you expect when it’s you who’s on foot. No matter where you’re going or how you’re getting there, a courteous, attentive attitude is sure to make your trip that much easier!