Since 2015, at least 151 pedestrians in Connecticut have been killed in collisions with motor vehicles* (CTCDR, 2017). This equates to nearly one death a week during this time period. Pedestrians, also known as non-motorists, are a unique and particularly vulnerable population. Non-motorists, for all intents and purposes, are a minority group in transportation. Some argue the reason crashes between these two groups occur are because non-motorists are not as cautious as they should be while on the road, by jaywalking or being distracted with MP3 players and cellphones. Others may feel that motorists are to blame because they are not more aware of pedestrians, with some not yielding at crosswalks or providing a safe distance for non-motorists to pass. There is some truth to be found in both arguments but more often than not, it is non-motorists who are seriously injured or killed in these collisions, not drivers. However, pedestrians also have a responsibility to fully obey the rules of the road that are really in place to protect them. Nevertheless, motorists and non-motorists do share the roadway and it is important to figure out how these two populations can coexist safely in the transportation environment.
When looking at the “cognitive, social and behavioral processes” that affect the safety of non-motorists, Walker (2011) explains that the separation lies within the difficulty of being empathetic towards a group that you cannot personally identify with (p.368). Meaning, it may be hard for some motorists to relate to or even realize the dangers non-motorists may face on the road because they themselves are not in those same situations. The ‘Us vs Them’ mentality is unfortunately a perception some motorists have towards non-motorists (Fruhen & Flin, 2015). Pedestrians, and cyclists for that matter, are viewed as separate from other road users, when in fact there is no difference. However, because this separation already exists in their mind, some motorists drive without being cognizant of non-motorists sharing the road way, which may cause non-motorists to be overlooked. There are some differences, however, between bicyclists and pedestrians, including what their responsibilities are as a road user, and how they are treated by other road users. Because of this, it is important to look at each of the particular vulnerabilities of each population separately. The focus of this post will be on pedestrians but you can read more about bicyclists in the traffic environment here.
Much of the responsibility of avoiding motor vehicle crashes does not lie on the shoulders of the pedestrian, but on the shoulders of drivers. Van Houten (2011) points out that it is drivers who are required to meet a standard of expectation when it comes to the cognitive ability and motor skills needed to effectively operate a vehicle. Pedestrians may be small children, elderly or physically disabled and may not meet these same standards. In addition, driving is a privilege bestowed by the state that a motorist resides in, and it can be taken away should that motorist violate any laws or regulations associated with this privilege. Non-motorists right to walk or bike, however, cannot be taken away without infringing on their human rights. However, because the road is seen as “the exclusive domain of the automobile”, it presents challenges when trying to implement changes to the driving culture (Van Houten, p. 353). In an attempt to tackle these challenges, the behavioral/psychological component of non-motorist traffic collisions are explored.
When motorists and non-motorists are not aware of one another, it can lead to collisions resulting in very serious, and sometimes fatal injuries. One example of this is a screening crash, in which one motorist stops for a pedestrian to cross the street but a second motorists in another lane fails to see the pedestrian and ends up colliding with them in the crosswalk (Van Houten, 2011). Another type of screening crash is one that involves a pedestrian darting out from a parked car or other structure. These crashes can be particularly hard to prevent because this can happen at any point in the roadway. Infrastructure changes, such as creating a barrier to physically separate pedestrians and drivers and moving the stop line for vehicles farther back from crosswalks, are possible solutions to help reduce these collisions. Installing audible crosswalk warnings that inform the pedestrian of turning vehicles could also help to reduce the over-representation of pedestrians in intersection crashes.
A screening crash can be initiated by many different variables, one of which is the driver committing a “looked-but-failed-to-see” error. Walker defines looked-but-failed-to-see errors as those in which a motorist failed to see another road user, in this case non-motorists, even after checking the roadway. This type of driver error is classified as an attention lapse and can occur when a driver has become so familiar with the driving task that their brain consciously overlooks certain things (Herslund & Jorgensen, 2003). For example, have you ever driven your usual route to or from work and realized later that you didn’t really remember going through the motions to get there? Even though you were alert and paying attention to your surroundings, perhaps there is a particular business you always pass on this route and you don’t remember passing it. You may do so without really thinking about it, because you have done it so many times before. When this happens, you are experiencing this same attention lapse.
Lack of knowledge about what is expected from drivers and non-motorists could also contribute to these collisions. Some drivers are not clear on what is expected of them when it comes to sharing the road with non-motorists and vice versa. The Connecticut General Assembly enacted the ‘Vulnerable User Law’ in October of 2014 to protect non-motorists on the road way. CSG § 14-300i(b) states that “any person operating a motor vehicle on a public way who fails to exercise reasonable care and causes the serious physical injury or death of a vulnerable user of a public way,” will be fined. Below is a summary of Connecticut’s current laws regarding motorists and pedestrians, provided by The National Conference of State Legislatures (2016) :
- Drivers must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians within a marked or unmarked crosswalk when a pedestrian steps off the curb and enters the crosswalk or is within the same half of the roadway as the vehicle. (Sec. 14-246a)
- The driver of a vehicle within a business or residence area, emerging from an alley, driveway or building, shall stop and yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian as may be necessary to avoid collision, and upon entering the roadway shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles approaching on such roadway. Violation of any provision of this section shall be an infraction. (Sec. 14-247a)
- Pedestrians must yield the right-of-way to vehicles when crossing outside of a marked or unmarked crosswalk. (Sec. 14-300 b)
- Where traffic control devices are in operation, pedestrians may only cross between two adjacent intersections in a marked crosswalk and may only cross an intersection diagonally if authorized by a traffic control device. (Sec. 14-300 b)
- No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb, sidewalk, crosswalk or any other place of safety adjacent to or upon a roadway and walk or run into the path of a vehicle. No pedestrian who is under the influence of alcohol or any drug shall walk or stand upon any part of a roadway. (Sec. 14-300 c (b) )
Based on the available research in this area, which includes many self-reported behaviors of motorists and non-motorists, two things are clear. The second is that it is imperative that motorists and non-motorists are all included in a collaborative effort to incorporate safety and functionality into their shared space. The development and application of pedestrian-bicycle-driver shared space strategy, where the considerations and concerns of each group are taken into account, would be beneficial in possibly alleviating these types of collisions.
Connecticut Crash Data Repository (CTCDR). (2016). http://www.ctcrash.uconn.edu. Accessed Nov 16, 2017.
Fruhen, L. & Flin, R. (2015). Car driver attitudes, perceptions of social norms and aggressive driving behaviour towards cyclists. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 83, 162-170.
General Statutes of Connecticut. (2015). https://www.cga.ct.gov/current/pub/titles.htm. Accessed Aug 8, 2016.
Herslund, M.B., & Jorgensen, N.O. (2003). Looked-but-failed-to-see errors in traffic. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 35, 885-891.
National Counsel for State Legislatures. (2016). Pedestrian Crossing: 50 State Summary. http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/pedestrian-crossing-50-state-summary.aspx. Accessed July 8, 2016.
Van Houten, R. (2011). Pedestrians. In B.E. Porter (Eds.) Handbook of Traffic Psychology. (353-366). London, UK: Elsevier, Inc.