It’s all too common at University Hospital for us to take care of people hit by cars and trucks while crossing the street — more than 200 a year, on average. Nationally, about one in 10 of these pedestrian injuries proves fatal, about 4,000 deaths per year. Texas ranks third in the nation in pedestrian deaths.
Statistically, teens and young adults are the most likely to be rushed to emergency rooms across the country with these injuries — and a few of those have been in our local news in recent weeks.
The saddest part is that almost all of these injuries are preventable. While drivers can be at fault, it is incredibly important for pedestrians to stay alert and cross only at crosswalks — since they are the ones who suffer most in these collisions.
The math is simple: When it’s you versus car, you will be the loser.
The same sort of dangerous distractions facing drivers are also a factor when people on foot put themselves in danger. Talking and texting on mobile phones, listening to music, being in a hurry, focusing on friends — even being lost in thought — increase the risk of stepping into traffic without paying attention.
Three out of four pedestrian deaths occur in the urban environment — 70 percent in non-intersection crossings and 70 percent at night. Many involve alcohol.
That’s why crossing only at intersections and designated crosswalks can save lives. They force both drivers and pedestrians to focus on the task at hand, whether it’s turning or crossing. Drivers looking for oncoming traffic are more likely to notice people on foot or on bicycles. And vehicles slow before they turn — so even if there is contact, it is less likely to be deadly than when someone steps into the street in the middle of the block and is hit by a car traveling or exceeding the speed limit.
For parents who taught their young children to look left, then right, then left again before crossing the street, it can be hard to reinforce safety messages to older children and teens testing the limits of their independence and tuning out adults.
Here’s one possible message to them: If you truly want control of your life, be safe. It’s the one thing that’s almost entirely in your control.
Drivers and pedestrians can help keep everyone safe.
How can drivers help?
- Keep an eye out for pedestrians, especially at night or in bad weather.
- Obey speed limits, slow down and prepare to stop at intersections where pedestrians are likely to cross.
- Be careful when backing up.
How pedestrians can help?
- Be predictable. Keep to crosswalks and intersection crossings.
- Walk facing traffic and as far from it as possible.
- Pay attention to the road. No texting or talking on the phone.
How parents can help:
- Visit the walking safely website.
- Teach your children the right-of-way rules
- Conduct a walkability checklist of your neighborhood.
Dr. Lillian Liao is medical director of pediatric trauma and burns at University Hospital