Pedestrian Safety and the Law

State Law: Turning Vehicles must Yield to PedestriansThere are many laws in place that are meant to protect pedestrians.  In New Jersey, drivers must come to a complete stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk.  In PA, cars have to yield to pedestrians at intersections without a traffic signal, whether or not the crosswalk is marked.  Philadelphia law specifically states that vehicles may not block an intersection or crosswalk.  The law also requires vehicles to come to a complete stop when pulling out of a driveway, before reaching the sidewalk.  Furthermore, motorists in Philadelphia are prohibited from using a cell phone, except with a hands-free device.

Despite these preventative laws, accidents do happen, and when cars and pedestrians collide, the car almost inevitably wins.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 145 pedestrians were killed in vehicular collisions in Pennsylvania in 2010; of these, 30 deaths occurred in Philadelphia alone.[1]  Although the number of vehicle-pedestrian collisions per year has decreased since 1997, the crashes that do occur are more likely to result in fatalities.

According to the 2008 National Pedestrian Crash Report, 2/3 of pedestrian fatalities occur in urban areas.[2]  Considering the fact that the Philadelphia area is heavily urbanized, pedestrians in Philadelphia and the surrounding region should be especially cautious when walking anywhere that cars may be present.  It’s important to be alert when walking after dark, as crashes are more likely to occur during the nighttime.  The likelihood of being involved in a crash increases over the weekend as well, when increased volumes of both cars and pedestrians make conditions more hazardous.  Also, elderly pedestrians are much more likely to be killed in a crash than younger people.

You are ultimately responsible for your own safety!  Even though a car poses a much greater threat to a pedestrian than a pedestrian does to a car, pedestrians still need to make good choices about walking to avoid conflicts with vehicles.  About 27% of pedestrian fatalities between 1997 and 2006 involved a person improperly crossing the street in some way.  Don’t jump out in front of cars or enter the roadway between parked cars, where you are less visible to oncoming drivers.  Always cross the street at an intersection when the light is green or when the pedestrian “WALK” signal is lit.

Here are some more resources for safe walking:

  • FHWA Pedestrian Safety guide
  • Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center
    • For information on improving pedestrian safety, see the link to the “PedSafe” guide, near the bottom of the main page.
  • Safe Routes to School
    • SRTS is a federal program aimed at mobilizing parents and communities to “improve the health and well-being of children” by getting kids to walk and bike to school.
  • Safe Routes Philly
    • A project of the Bicycle Coalition, Safe Routes Philly “promotes biking and walking as fun, healthy forms of transportation in Philadelphia Elementary Schools.

2 comments

  1. Always cross the street at an intersection when the light is green or when the pedestrian “WALK” signal is lit.

    No, I will cross neighborhood streets wherever I choose. We should not be creating infrastructure that encourages dangerous vehicles to speed through densely populated areas. This article misses the point.

    1. Corey,

      I’m not quite sure to which kind of “neighborhood streets” you are referring, but there are many reasons why unsanctioned mid-block crossings can be unsafe for pedestrians. Because drivers do not expect to see pedestrians in the middle of the road, it may take them longer to react and slow down. Also, many streets in city neighborhoods have parallel parking alongside them. An oncoming driver may not be able to see you crossing if you emerge from between two parked cars.

      While it is true that many suburban neighborhood streets are relatively low-traffic, these streets are often far too wide to be considered an appropriate “neighborhood” scale. Wide streets give drivers the false impression that it is safe to travel at faster speeds. It has been proven that the severity of a car/pedestrian crash is much greater at higher speeds, so pedestrians should still avoid high-risk crossings. Unfortunately, a lot of infrastructure that encourages vehicles to speed already exists as a result of suburbanization. This blog post was intended to provide safety tips for dealing with existing infrastructure. Many strategies exist for making these streets more appropriate for pedestrian use, such as curb bumpouts that shorten the pedestrian crossing distance at an intersection. Ideally, roads should be designed to accommodate all users, and that’s what the Complete Streets movement is all about. However, it is not feasible to redesign every street, so pedestrians should still be equipped with the knowledge of how to safely approach walking in areas where cars may be traveling.

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