Road Rules 101: Short days riskier for pedestrians

September 30, 2019 by PEMCO Insurance

We've received a flurry of requests asking to clarify rules for pedestrians – and with different points of view. While reader Sandra S. says she no longer feels safe in crosswalks owing to inattentive, aggressive drivers, writer Alice F. worries that overly polite drivers compound problems when they stop for pedestrians who don't have right-of-way. Thanks to all who have taken time to write, particularly as we enter the "danger season" for pedestrians.

Road Rules 101: Short days riskier for pedestrians

The upcoming Nov. 3 return to Standard Time comes as good news to anyone who relishes an extra hour of sleep. But for pedestrians? It's the most dangerous time of year.

People walking during the evening rush hour are nearly three times more likely to be killed by cars in the week following the time change. The risk begins dropping as drivers and pedestrians readjust to navigating in the dark. The danger then declines each month through May.

Now's a great time to brush up on pedestrian rules of the road so you can practice them before the time change:

  • Whether you're behind the wheel or on foot, obey traffic signs and signals. Pedestrians should cross only at crosswalks and only with the signal if the crosswalk has one. (There may be exceptions, including Portland, Ore., law that states you can cross outside a crosswalk if there isn't one within 150 feet.)
  • Crosswalks exist at all corners, even if they're not painted. Once a pedestrian has indicated intent to cross (stepped into the crosswalk, put a crutch or cane in it, etc.), you're required to stop and remain stopped until that person has cleared the lanes as outlined below. Pedestrians need to allow cars reasonable time to stop before stepping out.
  • In Washington, you must stop "if the pedestrian is upon or within one lane of the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling or onto which it is turning." In other words, you need to stop and remain stopped if the pedestrian is even approaching the center line (separating lanes traveling in opposite directions) until he or she has completed the crossing. For one-way streets, the rule applies to the entire width of the road. Oregon's language is only slightly different. It says (paraphrasing) that drivers must stop and remain stopped if the pedestrian has reached the lane adjacent to theirs or, if the driver is preparing to turn, is within six feet of that lane.

 Drivers also should keep these tips in mind:

  • Resist the urge to "do a good deed" by stopping and waving on pedestrians mid-block or for whom the crossing signal hasn't yet changed. Drivers behind you won't be expecting you to stop, and oncoming drivers won't anticipate a pedestrian suddenly emerging on their side of the road.
  • Stop well in front of crosswalks. You'll help other drivers realize a pedestrian is crossing.
  • Don't overtake a stopped vehicle. Chances are, it's stopped for a pedestrian.
  • Slow down in dark or wet conditions, particularly around schools.

And for people on foot:

  • Turn down earbuds, pocket your phone and walk with your head up.
  • Make sure traffic has stopped before you enter a crosswalk, even though the signal has changed.
  • Beware of cars making right turns. Drivers looking left for traffic may not notice that you've entered the crosswalk on their right.
  • Dress in light colors and put a reflector or flasher on your backpack. Fashion faux pas aside, consider wearing a headlamp.
  • Opt for routes with sidewalks. If none are available, walk facing traffic.

Fast fact

Pedestrian deaths have increased to their highest level since 1990, while the combined number of all other traffic deaths have dropped by 6%. Researchers aren't sure why, but say smartphone distraction (both among drivers and pedestrians) and more large vehicles (SUVs) on the road may be contributors.

Cities are taking note of the plight of pedestrians. Last month, lawmakers in Seattle began discussing the way signal technology balances the needs of drivers, transit riders, pedestrians and bicyclists with an eye toward creating a more pedestrian-friendly stoplight policy.

NOTE: While we're experts in loss prevention and home/auto safety, we don't consider ourselves experts in traffic laws or their enforcement. Information shared here is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you have legal concerns, we urge you to contact a law enforcement source or attorney in your community.

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