Driving with Jens: Both motorists and pedestrians have responsibilities when sharing the road

Roadways are a shared-use public resource. They are meant to be shared with motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. If everyone adheres to the rules of the road, then everyone will get home safe and sound.

Of these three groups sharing the road, pedestrians are the most vulnerable. They don’t have the safety advantages of motorists or cyclists. They don’t enjoy the security of being buckled inside a vehicle with airbags and other modern safety features and they are not wearing a helmet.

Crashes between cyclists and pedestrians don’t seem to be very common and don’t usually result in serious physical injury. However, crashes between motorists and pedestrians do occur somewhat regularly and often result in very serious injury or death.

One of the first lessons my mother taught me as a child was to always look both ways before crossing the street. One of the first lessons I was taught in drivers’ training was to always yield to pedestrians.

These are both good lessons and sound pretty straight forward. If both were followed religiously then crashes should never occur. In the real world however, it never seems to be that simple and crashes do occur. Distractions and expectations seem to be at the root of this failing.

Distracted driving is defined as the act of driving while engaging in other activities which distract the driver’s attention away from the road. The same distractions that would take a driver’s attention off the road would also apply to pedestrians.

The expectation that you have the right-of-way can be reckless, dangerous and cause crashes.

The whole notion of right-of-way isn’t even based on law. The law doesn’t actually give you the right-of-way, but rather dictates when you should yield. This concept is true for both motorists and pedestrians. The only real right-of way is proceeding with caution.

Both motorists and pedestrians absolutely have the right to share public roadways. With this right though comes the responsibility to avoid distractions and expectations and to follow traffic laws.

For motorists this means staying focused on the road. Refrain from using phones or other handheld devices. Avoid driving at all if you’re going to be distracted by passengers, pets, or your mood. Taking your eyes off the road for only five seconds while driving 90 km/h means your vehicle will travel the length of a full football field and you won’t see anything in your path that whole distance. Think about what could happen and who and what could have been in your path.

You should always be watching and ready to yield to pedestrians, especially at intersections and near transit stops. Being aware that a vehicle stopped in front of you or in the lane next to you, may be yielding for a pedestrian. Impatiently passing or going around them could easily cause a crash.

For pedestrians this means being careful at intersections. Watch for drivers turning through the crosswalk. Realize that drivers may be focused on oncoming traffic and not watching for you.

Make eye contact with drivers and never assume that drivers have seen you. Being as reflective as possible to make it easier for drivers to see you.

Never jaywalk, always use crosswalks and follow pedestrian signs and traffic signals. Never use your headphones or your phone while crossing the road. Stay focused.

While you may not always follow them, as adults these concepts are understood. Don’t assume that this is necessarily the same case for children. It’s important to talk to them about pedestrian safety, and in more depth than just looking both ways before you cross the road.

Start by being a good example yourself and always following the responsibilities mentioned earlier. Discuss each of the principles in detail. Talk about the potential consequences of not following these habits.

You can make teaching children about road safety fun. Make a game out of guessing the correct traffic signs and their meanings. Offer little rewards.

Teach them to listen and be seen. Teach them to make sure vehicles have stopped before entering the road and how to make eye contact with drivers before crossing, even if the walk signal light is showing. Teach them to avoid taking shortcuts through parked cars where it’s much harder for drivers to see them.

Make sure your child is wearing bright and reflective clothes. Especially at night and in other poor visibility conditions.

When both motorists and pedestrians follow all traffic rules, signs and directions, when they both put distractions and expectations aside, the likelihood of a crash is almost non-existent.

You may notice the word crash was used instead of accident. The word accident implies that it was somehow unavoidable. Traffic crashes are always avoidable if everyone stays focused and follows the rules.

Catch Driving, with Jens on CHON FM Thursdays at 8:15. If you have any questions or comments you can reach out to Jens Nielsen at drivingwithjens@gmail.com, Facebook or Twitter: @drivingwithjens.

Driving With Jens

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