Learn to Walk Again

According to the ancient joke, chickens cross the road with impunity, no matter what the reason. So why are so many Americans seemingly unable to do this safely? Pedestrian safety or, more correctly, the lack of it, is a major problem. Between 1975 and 2000 more than 175,000 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This year approximately 5,000 more pedestrians will die as they try to cross streets or walk by the side of a highway. In all, pedestrians account for about 12 percent of all motor vehicle accident fatalities each year.

Now, in an effort to find new ways to decrease pedestrian injuries and fatalities, the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works (DPW), is launching an interactive pedestrian safety information campaign called "Straight Talk - Smart Walk."

According to DPW Director Jim Noyes, "Our goal is to greatly enhance pedestrian safety by increasing public awareness of prudent pedestrian and motorist behaviors."

The program, funded by a $451,500 grant awarded by the California Office of Traffic Safety, will target the populations with the highest need for education in safe walking. Sadly, these groups include children and teens, with a particular emphasis on Latinos and African Americans. Statistics show that these members of the population are over-represented in the recorded injuries and fatalities.

A key element of the program is the amusingly titled "Walk This Way" road show, a three-dimensional walking obstacle course specially designed to simulate the common obstacles and safe-walking challenges encountered every day. No, the course won't be filled with whizzing cars, SUVs and semi-trailer trucks, but children will have an opportunity to learn safe walking practices when the road show visits schools and community organizations. All children who participate in the pedestrian safety program will become members of the Youth Street Safe Squad. They, in turn, will help educate their peers, parents and friends about safe walking practices.

As the campaign progresses, teens and seniors (another at-risk group) will become increasingly involved through targeted activities including a video game, art contest and a mentoring program. Since the program is targeted to help diverse groups, it will use materials that will reach individual populations using in-language materials (for instance, some in Spanish) and culturally appropriate media outlets.

One key way to avoid becoming a pedestrian victim is to be plainly seen by motorists. A motorist traveling at 60 miles per hour first sees a pedestrian traveling along a road in dark clothing from approximately 55 feet away. This gives the driver less than one second to react, but a driver traveling that fast needs over 260 feet to stop. For this reason, it is crucial that pedestrians stand out against the background (see chart).

The old message to "wear white at night" is not enough to guarantee the safety of pedestrians who are traveling in or near traffic at night. Simply wearing white or light-colored clothing does not provide enough information for motorists to recognize, locate, and react properly to pedestrians who are traveling on or near the road.

During the day, "fluorescent" colors like blaze orange, hot pink, and day-glo green are great. But, though fluorescent colors are noticeable during the day or in low light conditions, they are nearly worthless at night. Because of that, if you are walking on or near a road at night carry a flashlight or some other form of light. This will significantly increase one's odds of being seen. And being seen and not hurt is the goal of any pedestrian.

Driving Today Managing Editor Jack R. Nerad writes frequently on motor vehicle safety issues.