Safely Speaking

Walk This Way (But Not While Distracted)

by Betsey Kulakowski
Training Development Manager
Oklahoma Safety Council

Walking is one of the oldest, most basic, and arguably most beneficial forms of human transportation. However, according to Consumer Reports, Oklahoma City ranked third behind Albuquerque and Phoenix as ‘The Deadliest Cities for Pedestrians’. Auto-safety experts have become increasingly alarmed by the rising number of pedestrians killed by vehicles over the past decade, the report said. The report reinforces data that have been identified as a growing hazard for years. Since 2009, pedestrian fatalities have risen 46% with nearly 6,000 people struck and killed in 2016.

Why is the number so high? “A perfect storm of factors spurred the increase, GHSA Spokeswoman Maureen Vogle says. “A stronger economy and low gas prices have put more cars on the road and have people dying more often, but that is really only part of the story.”

After speeding, and failure to yield, distractions are the top three reasons for many of the fatal incidents. “We see drivers distracted by electronics in the car all the time, but we also see pedestrians with their heads down and their eyes on their phones,” says Oklahoma Safety Council Training Manager Betsey Kulakowski. “Spatial awareness is an important part of any journey whether in your car or on foot.”

Darkness poses an especially high risk for pedestrians. On a Nation-wide basis, about half of all pedestrian fatalities in 2016 occurred between 6:00pm and midnight, with 75% occurring after dark, and according to the GHSA, 33% of fatalities occur on local streets

So, what is Oklahoma City doing about its pedestrian safety issues? According to the GHSA, both Oklahoma City and Tulsa have implemented new multi-modal engineering solutions that include improved crosswalk marking, signals/signs, sidewalks and dedicated lanes for bicyclists that also provide some additional protection for pedestrians.

Many factors outside the control of traffic safety officials can contribute to annual changes in the number of pedestrian fatalities including economic conditions, demographics, weather, fuel prices, the amount of time people spend walking, etc. Seven states (Alaska, Colorado, Main, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) that legalized the use of marijuana between 2012 and 2016 reported a collective 16.4 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2017, vs. the first six months of 2016.

Pedestrians need to take personal responsibility for their own safety by staying alert and putting away their electronic devices and keeping their eyes on the road. Pedestrians should follow all traffic rules, and signals; and always use cross walks, never assume that a driver will give you the right of way. If you are going to bike or walk at night or in times of low light (such as fog, dawn, dusk, etc.), think about your attire. Wearing black at night decreases the likelihood of you being seen. Having light-colored, reflective attire can help you be seen by motorists. Anyone working near a roadway, should be equipped with clean, well-maintained high-visibility attire, such as high-vis vests and reflective clothing that meets the ANSI requirements for the work being performed.

Pedestrians are some of our most vulnerable roadway users, and each one of these deaths is 100% preventable. This report not only gives us a snapshot of the increase in pedestrian deaths, but also provides solutions for communities and residents alike. This serves as a wake-up call to all drivers and pedestrians to always be alert, no matter how you are traveling.