By Lt. Craig Anderson, College Station Police Department
As College Station’s streets have become increasingly congested, accidents involving pedestrians and motor vehicles have resulted in scores of injuries and several tragic fatalities. It’s a scene becoming all-too-familiar, not just here, but across the country.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pedestrian fatalities have surged by 46 percent since 2009. While other types of traffic fatalities declined, the national pedestrian death toll spiked to almost 6,000 in both 2016 and 2017 — the highest levels in more than a quarter-century. Our state suffered the third most pedestrian deaths in the nation last year.
In College Station, the number of vehicle accidents involving pedestrians has more than tripled since 2010, when we only had 14. From 2010-2013, we averaged about 19 pedestrian accidents per year, but from 2014-17 that average skyrocketed to almost 35. We’ve already had 21 such accidents in 2018, as well as our ninth pedestrian fatality since 2010.
From 2010-17, College Station had 232 vehicle crashes with pedestrians. Although only 17 occurred on the Texas A&M campus, the vast majority happened on nearby city streets.
Nationally, more than 75 percent of pedestrian accidents happen at night, with most occurring on city streets and frontage roads. Only about 18 percent happen at intersections, which means people are trying to cross busy streets at other points without using designated crosswalks.
The pedestrian-related accidents we see in College Station are typically caused by failure to yield, distractions, speeding, population growth, and alcohol and drugs.
1. Failure to Yield
The most common cause of pedestrian accidents in College Station is a failure to yield by either the motorist or the pedestrian. On the A&M campus, vehicles must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians at all times. Off-campus, vehicles must yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk or one close enough to the road to be in danger.
Cars or trucks emerging from an alley, building, private road, or driveway must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians approaching on a sidewalk.
Pedestrians have a responsibility, too. They can’t suddenly leave the curb and enter a crosswalk in the path of a moving vehicle that’s unable to yield. Pedestrians must also yield the right-of-way when crossing outside of a marked crosswalk or an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.
At an intersection with a traffic control device, pedestrians may only cross between two adjacent intersections in a marked crosswalk and may only cross an intersection diagonally if authorized by a control device.
2. Population Growth
College Station has added about 25,000 residents since 2010. That means we have thousands more cars – and pedestrians — on our roadways. The rapid growth is expected to continue.
Distracted driving is a well-documented problem, but distracted walking can be just as hazardous. The likely source of these distractions? Smartphones, of course. The number of smartphone users in the United States skyrocketed from about 62.6 million in 2010 to an estimated 237.6 million this year.
We see an increasing number of oblivious pedestrians with their eyes glued to their cell phones, some multiplying the danger by using headphones or earbuds. These types of distractions may be the most significant factor behind the recent rise in pedestrian accidents.
4. Alcohol and Drugs
The impact of alcohol and illicit drugs can never be underestimated. Alcohol and drugs impair judgment, decision-making, and reaction time. Most people recognize that it’s dangerous to drink and drive, but walking while drunk can be equally risky. The Governor’s Highway Safety Association reports that a third of pedestrian fatalities involve a walker whose blood alcohol level exceeds the legal driving limit.
A recent study by the American Automobile Association showed the risk of pedestrians being involved in a crash climbs substantially when vehicle speed rises by even a small amount. About half of pedestrians die when the vehicle is going 42 mph, three-quarters perish when the car or truck is traveling 50 mph, and 90 percent die when vehicles reach 58 mph.
Now that we have a good understanding of what can cause pedestrian accidents, how do we prevent them? Here are some excellent tips for pedestrians and drivers alike, courtesy of the NHTSA:
- Be predictable.
- Follow the rules of the road and obey signs and signals.
- Walk on sidewalks whenever they are available. If there is no sidewalk, walk facing traffic and as far from traffic as possible.
- Keep alert at all times; don’t be distracted by electronic devices that take your eyes and ears off the road.
- Cross streets at crosswalks or intersections whenever possible. This is where drivers expect pedestrians.
- Look for cars in all directions – including those turning left or right.
- If a crosswalk or intersection is not available, locate a well-lit area where you have the best view of traffic. Wait for a gap in traffic that allows you enough time to cross safely, and continue to watch for traffic as you cross.
- Never assume a driver sees you. Make eye contact with drivers as they approach you to make sure you are seen.
- Be visible at all times. Wear bright clothing during the day, and wear reflective materials or use a flashlight at night.
- Watch for cars entering or exiting driveways, or backing up in parking lots.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs when walking; they impair your abilities and judgment.
- Look out for pedestrians everywhere at all times.
- Use extra caution when driving in hard-to-see conditions, such as nighttime or in bad weather.
- Slow down and be prepared to stop when turning or otherwise entering a crosswalk.
- Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and stop well back from the crosswalk to give other vehicles an opportunity to see the crossing pedestrians so they can stop, too.
- Never pass vehicles stopped at a crosswalk. There may be people crossing that you can’t see.
- Never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Follow the speed limit, especially around people on the street.
- Follow slower speed limits in school zones and in neighborhoods where there are children present.
- Be extra cautious when backing up – pedestrians can move into your path.
Pedestrian safety is a responsibility shared by drivers and walkers. By making good decisions and paying attention, we can significantly reduce the number of pedestrian accidents on our streets.
About the Blogger
Lt. Craig Anderson is in his 31st year with the College Station Police Department. Before becoming a police officer, Craig served four years in the U.S. Navy.
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