In light of the Queens Boulevard tragedies, walkers need to take extra precautions. Technically, drivers are supposed to yield for pedestrians, but that rarely happens. Each year 6,000 pedestrians are injured and 90,000 are killed according to the U.S. Department of Transportation; out of those statistics one in five are children. This fatality rate is 14 times higher here than in Germany, for example. This is due not only to the deterioration in driver behavior, notably the lack of respect for pedestrians, but in the walker’s inattentiveness.
Walking has never been a more popular form of exercise, rising up 34% from 1987 to 16.9 million walkers today. At the same time, walking as transportation is at an all time low – only 5.4% of trips are made on foot, resulting in a dramatic 42% drop and a 40% increase in overweight Americans in the last 20 years. We have 300,000 deaths annually from the lack of physical activity and/or poor nutrition.
For safer walking cross at the crosswalks rather than jaywalking (1/2 of all pedestrian deaths are due to crossing mid-block). Do not assume a green light or a walk signal means it is okay to cross – always look both ways, even when you have the right of way. On rainy and snowy days take your limited visibility into account as well as the extra time needed for a car to stop. Above all do not overestimate your child’s ability to cross. Elementary-age (under 12) children are especially at risk because their judgment and other abilities aren’t fully developed. For example, they have trouble judging traffic speed and can also confuse eye contact with a driver as permission to cross.
Some goals of walking advocates include traffic “calming” with more crosswalks, medians and traffic circles as well as better enforcement of speed limits. Until their vision becomes a reality, walkers must do a better job protecting themselves.