Whether you live in a city or a small town, and whether you drive a car, take the bus or ride a train, at some point in the day, everyone is a pedestrian. – Anthony Foxx
In 2017, 284 pedestrians were killed by drivers on Canadian roads. In British Columbia, 2300 pedestrians were injured and 42 were killed in altercations with cars during the same time period. These incidents often involve our most vulnerable citizens, children and seniors, and occur in both rural and urban settings. Most deaths and injuries on our roads are preventable considering that official documents and media reports will tell you that speed and distracted driving are leading contributors. I am certain we have all seen near misses related to both. Lower speed limits and protected pedestrian and cyclist lanes help, but keeping safe on our roads is a shared responsibility.
While many tragic incidents involving pedestrians are not at all related to their individual behaviour, some may well be avoided with increased care and attention on the part of both pedestrians and drivers. A particular case that sticks in my mind is that of an 82 year old patient of mine who survived being hit by a car while crossing a 4-lane highway. She recovered from her relatively minor injuries, but never let go of her outrage at being hit by a car. She raised this issue at every visit for the next year. What she often neglected to reflect on, was that she had truly crossed in the middle of the highway and stepped over the wide, vegetation-covered median before being hit.
October is Pedestrian Safety Month, which means it’s the perfect time for us to consider how we address the safety of those walking on our streets. Pedestrian safety is a global problem, but by thinking locally, we can make a major impact. Evidence suggests that walking improves our health outcomes and physicians want to encourage people of all ages to increase their regular activity. Walking, as well as cycling, is a great way to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and therefore reduce our impact on the environment.
October is also our Be Active Every Day challenge for school aged kids. This is the annual Doctors of BC initiative to help our children be more active and make healthier choices. This year, doctors are emphasizing the importance of staying safe and are providing kids with booklets that teach simple steps they can take to make sure drivers see them while they are out playing.
The Vancouver Police Department has published recommendations aimed at increasing pedestrian safety that target road users on their feet, on two wheels, and those behind the wheel. Certainly, asking drivers to slow down, yield to pedestrians, watch for pedestrians when turning, and obey traffic lights is a standard all drivers should adhere to, but we continue to see many drivers in a rush bending these rules. Obeying the signals, checking both ways, and not assuming that drivers see you are reasonable requests for pedestrians.
Yet I continue to see smart phone users paying more attention to their social media feed than their surroundings as they step off the curb into traffic that hasn’t yet cleared the intersection. I suspect this will become more common with the expanded use of electric cars given their relative silence that pedestrians can’t hear approaching. Is more aggressive ticketing for these near-miss behaviours the solution? Should walking and texting be banned? Should all cars have automatic braking for near contact with pedestrians as they now do for other vehicles?
As we ask our population to increase their walking for health, particularly our children and seniors, we will need to address the issue of pedestrian safety in a more robust fashion, emphasizing shared responsibility. We all need to do our part, even if it’s following the basics. Lives are on the line. Drivers: slow down and pay attention. Pedestrians: look left, look right, and left again.
- Dr Kathleen Ross