The World Health Organization says that of the 1.35 million road traffic deaths every year, 54% are pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.
Every 24 seconds someone dies on the road.
In the United States in 2018 alone, there were 857 bicycle fatalities and the number of pedestrians killed in traffic accidents was 6,283 — the highest since 1990. In 2017, 1111 people were seriously or fatally injured on Swiss roads, equalling three seriously injured people per day. The most common cause is distraction.
“I just didn’t see him!” is the response heard all too often by drivers at the scene of accidents.
The Touring Club Suisse reminds us that between November and February, pedestrians and cyclists have a 58% increase in risk of injury or death. And 40% of the accidents for this group occur during dawn and dusk, 5-9 am and 5-7 pm. Awareness of lighting’s effect on visibility is critical. In the U.S. almost 50% of pedestrian deaths happen between 6 pm and 12 am, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The most vulnerable on our roads need to be proactive in protecting themselves as much as possible.
DAY FLUORESCENT & NIGHT REFLECTIVE
During daylight hours, fluorescent clothing will take the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light, invisible to us, and convert it to light we can see. As the more visible light is reflected, fluorescent clothes appear brighter, which is particularly helpful in the witching hours of dusk and dawn. Fluorescent red, yellow, and orange test as particularly good choices to purchase, as they contrast best against a rider’s background.
In the darker hours of the night, with no UV light from the sun, fluorescent clothes lose their magic and reflective clothing and accessories become required.
Even the healthiest driver’s abilities to detect individuals and road hazards are diminished by nighttime conditions.
And this doesn’t even take into account the additional perceptual deficits of the elderly or more visually impaired. If dressed in dark colors, a driver can only see a person 25 meters away, but wearing reflective clothing or accessories, that same person can be spotted from 140 meters away. That time difference is critical when calculating a driver’s reaction time along with the physics required to stop a speeding car.
Most important in ensuring riders and pedestrians are perceived as humans and not as inanimate objects is to take advantage of the drivers’ inbuilt sensitivity to patterns of human motion, also known as biomotion. Research has shown that a pedestrian/rider is most conspicuous by placing retroreflectors (such as tape or clothing panels) on their major joints (knees, ankles, elbows and wrists). This configuration is superior to a reflector vest alone.
In addition to visibility hazards, those on the road need to be conscious of other major accident contributors.
ALCOHOL. We know about driving under the influence, but many do not realize that walking under the influence can be equally as deadly. In the U.S., almost half of all fatal accidents with pedestrian deaths have alcohol as part of the mix, but 34% of that number involved pedestrian drinking. In Switzerland, the most common cause of accidents is excessive speed. Coming in second, causing more than one third of all traffic accidents, is consumption of alcohol, legal, and illegal drugs, including marijuana. Additionally, police have noted an alarming number of electric scooter drivers are under the influence.
HEADPHONES. These entertaining accessories tie up your hearing, depriving you of sound alerting you to danger’s proximity.
SMARTPHONES. The distraction from these devices, a particularly hazardous trap for youth, are often considered as bad or worse of a threat to pedestrians and cyclists.
Here are some reminders for specific road participants.
PEDESTRIAN TIPS FOR DEFENSIVE WALKING
Crossing a zebra crossing in Switzerland might be life-threatening. Europe has one of the highest death rates for pedestrian accidents. Until 1994, a hand signal from pedestrians at the crosswalk was obligatory. The Swiss still teach their children this communication approach: “Stop, wait, have eye contact with the driver, see if the wheels are stationary – then cross the road.”
But many adult pedestrians simply trust that the cars will slow down. According to current regulations, pedestrians always have priority at crosswalks. But this rule seduces many to blindly cross the street, all too often with life-threatening consequences.
Use sidewalks, crosswalks, and well-lit areas put there for your safety
Make eye contact with drivers to be certain they see you
Ensure cars are fully stopped before crossing
Walk facing traffic
Carry a flashlight
CYCLIST TIPS FOR DEFENSIVE RIDING
Every year in Switzerland over 17,000 cycle accidents are reported to insurers. Cyclists are up to 30 times more likely than drivers to get injured on the road and up to 18 times more likely to be killed. In the United States, cyclist deaths rose from 10% nationwide just between 2017 and 2018. Furthermore, the new trend of electric bikes and scooters are presenting an additional public hazard, as some reach speeds of between 32 and 48 km per hour and can be easily rented without a helmet.
Choose a bright base colour
Install and pre-ride-check a white front light and a rear red light at the back
Make sure that bike is adjusted properly to one’s height
Use a good helmet, correctly adjusted.
The World Health Organization says that wearing a helmet (correctly fit) can lead to a 42% reduction in the risk of fatal injuries and a 69% reduction in the risk of head injuries.
Tuck pants and tie shoelaces
Remember fluorescent clothing for the day, retroreflective accessorizing for nighttime
Be generous with reflective tape on frame and accessories
Consider a helmet rearview mirror. Although it is not a substitute for looking over one’s shoulder, it can give a biker more information about hazards coming from the rear.
Stay out of driver’s blindspots
The takeaway message: Increasing road safety for everyone means staying aware, taking responsibility for one’s actions on the road, and looking out for the most vulnerable.