Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Dark, rainy days ahead – time to use extra caution

By Barb Chamberlain

November brings two events that serve as reminders to use extra caution on our state’s streets and roads. Daylight saving time ends Sunday, Nov. 5, and we head into the winter months with their darker, shorter days. Then on Sunday, Nov. 19, the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims takes place. This international day of recognition reminds all of us to slow down, look out for others, and remember the terrible cost of traffic crashes to victims, their families and friends, and emergency responders.

With fewer hours of daylight, increased fog and rainy weather, and ice or snow to come, we’re reminding everyone that these conditions can make visibility a challenge. For drivers in particular, slowing down to leave a few extra seconds to see and respond can make all the difference between having, or preventing, a tragic collision.

Cars must stop for pedestrians at all intersections, whether they’re marked or unmarked. (Photo credit Dan Burden - Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center)
Driver mental and physical reaction times vary, and winter road conditions introduce additional variables into braking distance. A car traveling at 30 miles per hour travels about 100 feet in 2.3 seconds, the average reaction time for drivers. At 60 mph, the car will travel the length of an entire football field in the time it takes a driver to react and stop on dry pavement. The reaction-time window shrinks with increased speeds and the risk of serious injury or death for anyone walking or biking increases dramatically.

About 68 percent of pedestrians and bicyclists hit by drivers in Washington are struck as they are crossing the road.
 (Photo credit Jan Moser - Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center)
On both the state and federal level, we’ve set goals of reducing traffic-related fatalities on all roads to zero.  Unfortunately, for people walking and bicycling in Washington, serious injuries and fatalities are on the rise recently. We’re offering these safety tips to help reduce the risk of collisions:

For all road users, regardless of mode, if you feel unsafe due to lighting, roadway design, vehicle speed or other factors, report it to transportation and law enforcement officials.

  • Stop for people in crosswalks — every intersection is a crosswalk. It’s the law. Drivers must stop for pedestrians at intersections, whether it’s an unmarked or marked crosswalk, and bicyclists in crosswalks are considered pedestrians. It is also illegal to pass another vehicle stopped for someone at a crosswalk. In Washington, the leading action by motorists that results in them hitting someone is failure to yield to pedestrians. 
  • Put the phone down. Hand-held cell phone use and texting is prohibited for all Washington drivers and may result in a $136 fine for first offense, $235 on the second distracted-driving citation. 
  • Don’t drive impaired. Lack of sleep as well as alcohol and other substances reduce your ability to see, decide, and react in time. 
  • Look and then look again before turning. The majority (68 percent) of pedestrians and bicyclists hit by drivers in Washington state are struck as they are crossing the road.
  • Watch for people walking or biking near senior centers, schools, community centers, and other destinations. Persons over 65 make up the largest age group in traffic fatalities of people walking and biking, both nationally and in Washington state. From 2012-16, they represented 14 percent of the total population and were the victims in 24 percent of fatal non-motorist traffic fatalities – the most of any age groups.
  • Pass at a safe distance. Darkness and weather conditions may affect a driver’s ability to gauge distance. Leaving an extra safety buffer in time and space when passing people gives you more ability to see and react, and it’s also the law. Be aware that a bicyclist needs to be positioned in the lane a safe distance away from opening car doors, grates, and other hazards not visible to a driver.
  • Drive the posted speed limit, or slower if conditions make visibility difficult. If a driver hits a pedestrian or bicyclist at 20 mph or less, there is an estimated 95 percent survival rate; at 30 mph, a pedestrian has only a 5 percent chance of walking away without injury and the death rate jumps to 45 percent. The driver trying to save a few seconds by speeding could end up taking someone’s life. 
  • Use your lights. Daytime running lights make your vehicle more visible to other road users; make it a habit to use them. Many car headlight systems were found to provide relatively poor performance in studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Another study by AAA and the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center found that more than 80 percent of vehicles on the road have low-beam headlights that don’t provide adequate illumination for stopping distance at speeds more than 40 mph. Use your brights wherever possible, as long as they will not dazzle the eyes of other drivers.
People Walking or Bicycling
  • Walk and bike where you can be most visible. Use sidewalks and bike lanes when they are available and safe for use. If not, walk at the edge of the road facing traffic, and ride with the flow of traffic. Bicyclists using the sidewalk should roll at a walking pace. Stand clear of buses, hedges, parked cars, or other obstacles before crossing, so drivers can see you.
  • Take care when crossing. In addition to intersections, driveways are another place where you can expect to encounter drivers or bicyclists exiting or entering. Take an extra moment to confirm that you can cross safely. Don’t rely solely on traffic signals — look for oncoming traffic before you cross the road.
  • Use eye contact and hand signals to communicate. Making eye contact with drivers as you step into the crosswalk can help signal your intention to cross. On a bicycle, use hand signals to indicate lane changes, turns and stops. 
  • Use lights as required and take advantage of lighted crossings. State law requires bicycles to have a front headlight and rear reflector. A rear taillight makes a bicycle visible earlier to drivers approaching from behind. Carrying a flashlight when you walk helps you see and avoid irregularities in the sidewalk or shoulder.
We’re working to increase safety for pedestrians and bicyclists by strengthening and elevating bicycle and pedestrian planning, coordination and design solutions across all levels of our agency. The recent creation of our Active Transportation Division was noted by the League of American Bicyclists as one of the reasons for once again ranking Washington the #1 Bicycle Friendly State in America.


Dan said...

Every time we read about pedestrian safety, the onus seems to be placed almost exclusively on drivers. Aside from a small blurb recommending that bicycles use the lights that are required by law -- a law which is never enforced, by the way -- there's no emphasis placed upon pedestrians and bicyclists wearing bright clothing at night.

Once every few years in my community, someone is hit in a crosswalk. It's easy to gang up on the driver, but once the details come out, you hear that it happened in the pitch black of a November/December evening, quite likely in the rain, and most importantly, the victim is found to be wearing dark colors while crossing an arterial at night.

It frustrates me because while I take every precaution to avoid pedestrians and bicyclists, it seems that large numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists make no effort to be visible when it matters most.

jaSko said...

more of this learning need be included in test exam, including left lines...not to be in line all the time....and more.

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