sharing the road with pedestrians: 7 tips for driving around bipeds

Pedestrians and drivers don't always see eye to eye. Sometimes a driver rockets through a crosswalk, other times a pedestrian jaywalks in front of an unsuspecting driver. But by boosting your awareness of unprotected pedestrians, you can maintain more consistent safety and, hopefully, avoid preventable accidents.

pedestrians at risk

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 3 pedestrian groups most at-risk for accidents are seniors 65 and older, kids ages 5–9, and people under the influence of alcohol.

But really, from students headed home after class to joggers out on their morning run, pedestrians are everywhere and you never know who will cross your path unexpectedly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that there were roughly 65,000 pedestrian injuries due to car accidents in 2014.

tips for sharing the road with pedestrians

With these sobering facts in mind, here are some tips to help you identify "pedestrian zones" and stay safe around our street-crossing friends.

Know where the kids are

Children can be a bit oblivious when it comes to adult concepts like right-of-way and traffic laws, and they might run into the street without looking. So it's up to you, the driver, to be extra cautious in areas like school zones, parks, and playgrounds.

Also remember to avoid passing stopped school buses, as kids could dart into the street from a number of hard-to-see angles. (Another good reason: passing a school bus that has its lights flashing can add serious penalty points to your driving record, not to mention fines and a possible license suspension.)

Slow down for crosswalks

Crosswalks, particularly in big metro areas, don't always command respect from drivers. But the truth is crosswalks aren't just for those who are walking, jogging, or rollerblading. They're also for you, the driver. Crosswalks protect you by designating a safe area for pedestrians to cross — which cuts down on jaywalking and unexpected pedestrian crossing.

When you approach a crosswalk, always give the right-of-way to the pedestrian. If you're making a turn, scan the road closely before turning.

One thing you may have forgotten since drivers ed: any intersection, whether marked or unmarked, is technically a crosswalk. In Oregon, drivers face a fine of at least $200 for entering a pedestrian's "safety buffer."

Practice driveway safety

Backing out of your driveway is one of those simple things you do a million times until you can do it with your eyes closed — which is exactly what makes it dangerous.

Take your time when backing out of your driveway. You should check the mirrors first but not rely solely on them. Actually turn and look behind your car. It can also help to roll down your windows so you can hear approaching footsteps or smaller kids and give your horn a light honk so pedestrians know you're there even if they can't see you.

Beware the parking lot

An alarming 52 percent of all back-over injuries happen in parking lots, according to data cited by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. When a car backs into a pedestrian, it's considered a back-over accident.

Parking lots are breeding grounds for accidents because they're full of both cars and pedestrians and they're often unclear on who should go where. Keep your guard up when you navigate these relatively lawless lots.

Consider driving conditions

Weather and road conditions add to your stopping distance, which means if you're driving a tad fast during not-so-nice weather and a pedestrian runs into the street, you're going to have a harder time stopping. Pedestrians lack the reflective material we rely on to identify other cars and cyclists, so always adjust your speed according to the weather. This is especially true at night.

Leave your smartphone alone

It's well-known that distracted driving puts pedestrians at greater risk. A lesser-known problem is distracted walking. We've all been irked by a pedestrian who walks across the road with eyes (and brain) focused on an all-important text message. Avoid the temptation to multitask behind the wheel and keep an eye out for distracted walkers.

Stay alert for pedestrians with special needs

As a driver, keep an eye out for pedestrians who are at greater risk in crosswalk scenarios, including those who use a wheelchair, a cane, or any other type of assistive device. Also be aware of blind pedestrians. In South Carolina, blind pedestrians who enter the street with a white cane or a seeing-eye dog have the legal right-of-way over your vehicle in any circumstance.

a safe driver is a smart driver

By following these tips, you can safely identify and avoid potentially risky scenarios. And as a general rule, remember to yield right-of-way to pedestrians when you're behind the wheel.

And remember, avoiding accidents is also the best way to pay less for car insurance over time. Continue reading our sharing-the-road series at the links below to maximize your safe-driving knowledge.

Sharing the road with cyclists
Cyclists are quicker and less predictable than pedestrians but every bit as vulnerable. Find safety tips here.

Sharing the road with big trucks
On the other end of the vulnerability spectrum we have the road's biggest trucks. Check out our savvy safety tips.

Sharing the road with school buses
We'll break down what you need to know when driving around school buses and why bus-related moving violations are considered serious infractions.

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