JACKSON — There is a disturbing national trend of increasing pedestrian deaths.
An estimated 6,227 pedestrians were killed in traffic in 2018, according to the study from the Governors Highway Safety Association. That figure represents a striking rise from a decade earlier, when 4,109 pedestrians were killed in traffic.
The report cited alcohol use, speeding, unsafe infrastructure and the prevalence of SUVs as some of the biggest problems contributing to the fatalities. It also suggested that the increased use of smartphones may contribute to such deaths.
I live in LOHO, which is bounded by Meadowbrook to the north, Ridgewood to the east, I-55 to the west and Eastover to the south. Our streets are poorly lit.
Night after night, I watch neighbors walking at night with no reflective clothing. To aging eyes on a dim street, they might as well be invisible.
It gets worse. Often these pedestrians, especially the young, are listening to music using headphones, preventing them from hearing an approaching car. This is a recipe for tragedy.
In our neighborhood, the speed limit is 25 miles an hour. If you get hit at that speed, there is a 15 percent chance of death. Serious injury is likely.
Traffic deaths are three times greater at night than during the day, though only 20 percent of driving is done after dark. Fatigue and alcohol are two important causes, but experts say the biggest factor is darkness. Ninety percent of a driver’s reaction depends on vision, and we were just not engineered to see very well in the dark.
The typical 50-year-old driver needs twice as much light to see as well after dark as a 30-year-old. Yet few pedestrians are even aware of this, much less factoring it into their walking precautions. If you are walking at night, don’t listen to music. It’s too dangerous. And please wear some type of reflective clothing.
I try hard to be a defensive driver. I’ve never had an accident. But what’s far more important than defensive driving is defensive walking.
A driver is protected by the hull of the car and air bags. A pedestrian has no such protection.
Recently, I came close to getting run over. That’s when I realized I was not a defensive walker.
I was in downtown Jackson and was crossing East Capitol Street. The walk light was lit. I was within the pedestrian crosswalk. I had the right-of-way. All was good, or so I thought.
All of the sudden a vehicle that was stopped at the light began a turn onto the street and accelerated. I had no time to react. Thank God the driver saw me at the last minute and slammed on the brakes.
If a collision had occurred, I probably would have lived, but I would have suffered significant injuries that would have altered my life for months, if not forever.
That’s when I realized that I was completely lacking as a defensive pedestrian. I assumed that the vehicle at the light would do what it was supposed to do and give me the right-of-way.
That was terrible, awful, stupid thinking. It’s that type of thinking that is causing thousands of unnecessary pedestrian deaths a year.
Sure I would have been right in the event of an accident, but so what? I would still have been seriously injured.
By law, the pedestrian always has the right-of-way. But the car has the power and strength. It will always win a collision. Having been legally correct will be of little consolation while you suffer in pain on the hospital bed.
Then, I started thinking about all the times I crossed the street assuming a nearby car would wait on me. You know what they say about the word assume. It makes an ass of “u” and “me.”
Such pedestrian decisions should never be based on legal right-of-way. The deciding factor should be: “If the car suddenly accelerated at full speed, do I have time to get out of the way?” If the answer is no, then DO NOT WALK IN FRONT OF THE CAR.
Instead, stay out of the path of the car and wave it on. The few seconds you lose are not worth the risk of massive physical injury.
If a cautious person like me has taken 60 years to figure this out, I cringe at the thought of the millions of pedestrians who blithely walk in front of potentially deadly vehicles, blindly assuming the driver will not make a mistake.
I have news for you. People make mistakes. All it takes is one mistake to ruin your life. Let the car go first. Every single time.
A few hours later, I got a call. It was the driver who almost ran over me. He was an acquaintance of mine. A very nice man.
He was so apologetic, even distraught. If an accident had occurred, not only would I have been injured physically, he would have been traumatized emotionally.
“What happened?” I asked. His answer was simple: “I was daydreaming.”
That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just daydreaming.
News flash: People daydream. And they do it while driving. I do it. You do it. We all do it. That’s human nature.
I bear some additional responsibility. After parking my car on the corner, I entered the pedestrian crosswalk at an angle. If I had entered the crosswalk at the very start, the driver might have noticed me.
But the real point is this: We all need to change our attitude about walking on streets. Take your legal pedestrian right-of-way and banish it from your thought process. Instead, assume that sooner or later, a driver will screw up and come right at you. Then stay far enough away to ensure you have time to react.
That’s defensive walking. It is the real standard that should determine how you interact with cars as a pedestrian.
Just imagine a pedestrian walking down a dark street with dark clothing listening to blaring music while a driver is answering a text. Instant tragedy. Last year, 6,227 to be exact.
I was spared, perhaps so I could write this, so that someone else will be spared. God works in mysterious ways.