Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Remember what Uncle Ben said

By Barb Chamberlain

Spider-Man's Uncle Ben said it best: "With great power comes great responsibility."

That power lies in your hands and under your foot when you're behind the wheel. You're operating a vehicle that likely weighs two tons or more. The faster you drive, the less peripheral vision you have (the tunnel effect). This means you're more likely to miss seeing someone crossing the street ahead of you. And the faster you're driving when you hit them, the greater the chance you'll seriously injure or kill them with that impact.

We're coming up on the most pedestrian-friendly and kid-friendly date on the calendar: Halloween. Or at least it should be. But research tells us the relative risk of a child 4-8 years old dying on Halloween because a driver struck them is 10 times higher than it is the rest of the year. On Oct. 31 — and every night — it's up to you to make it safe for those outside your vehicle.

A lot of people will be out trick or treating this weekend so if you're driving please be alert, slow down and give them room to make it a safe holiday for everyone. Kids sometimes act in unpredictable ways so if you're driving,
always be prepared, slow down and do your part to keep them safe.

WalkSafe (a program at the KiDZ Neuroscience Center) provided some Halloween-specific tips to go along with our other reminders to drivers below. We've added a few reminders of Washington state law (and the laws of physics).

  • Reduce your speed to 20 miles per hour or less in neighborhoods whether you see children or not. Just because the sign says "SPEED LIMIT 30" doesn't mean you should drive 30 miles per hour.
    • RCW 46.61.400 tells you not to drive "at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions" and "In every event speed shall be so controlled as may be necessary to avoid colliding with any person no matter what the posted speed is."
    • If you want your neighborhood to have a posted speed of 20 mph, ask your city to consider using the Neighborhood Safe Streets Law in RCW 46.61.415. They don't have to do an engineering study to lower the speed limit.
    • A car traveling at 30 miles per hour travels about 100 feet in 2.3 seconds, the average reaction time for drivers.
  • If you see a group of kids at or near the side of the road, slow your vehicle to walking speed and give plenty of room. Remember, excited kids will act like excited kids; parents may be overwhelmed.
    • RCW 46.61.245 requires drivers to "exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway and...exercise proper precaution upon observing any child..."
    • That Spider-Man mask may make it hard for the child to see you.
  • The nose of your car must stop behind the stop line at all intersections, whether you see a pedestrian or not. Never stop ahead of the line.
    • This refers to intersections with marked crosswalks and/or stop lines. Remember that under RCW 46.61.235 you must stop at both unmarked and marked crosswalks. Every intersection is a legal crossing unless crossing is officially prohibited under RCW 46.61.240.
  • Be extra patient when letting trick-or-treaters cross the street. It can be a chore to keep a group of excited kids orderly, and a child may drop something while crossing. Stay behind the stop line until the entire group has passed.
  • Treat any neighborhood street with no sidewalks as if you were driving ON the sidewalk. The street is this neighborhood's sidewalk.

Once we get past Halloween, 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. 7, and we head into the winter months with their darker, shorter days. Then on Sunday, Nov. 21, 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.

To save lives so people don't have to just remember their loved ones — instead, they still get to spend time with them — remember Uncle Ben. As the new traffic safety video from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission reminds us, when you're the biggest and the fastest, you have to be the safest too.

Driving Safety Tips

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Pass at a safe distance — if you can't, slow down and wait. It's the law, updated in 2019 to require that you move over an entire lane when possible, pass at least three feet away if you can't use the other lane, or wait until it's safe to pass. 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. 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.
  • Watch for people walking or biking near schools, parks, community centers, and other destinations. Remember that children, shorter people, wheelchair users, and people using a recumbent or handcycle may be in the street below your bumper height if you're in a large vehicle like an SUV or pick-up.
  • 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.
  • Use your lights but know their limitations. 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 over 80 percent of vehicles on the road have low-beam headlights that don't provide adequate illumination for stopping distance at speeds over 40 mph. Use your brights wherever possible, as long as they will not dazzle the eyes of other drivers.