Pedestrian safety: walk safe, drive smart

By Julie E. Lee

Fortunately, pedestrian accidents, like many traffic accidents, are preventable. Yet 47,000 people were killed and 688,000 were injured while crossing or walking along a street over the last decade. This means that a pedestrian is struck by a vehicle nearly every seven minutes in the U.S.

When you’re in the driver’s seat, avoid an accident by abiding by these five AARP Driver Safety tips:

1. Always be on the lookout. Pedestrians can and will be found anywhere, even places where you are not expecting them (like highways or busy, multiple-lane intersections). It is therefore crucial that you frequently scan the road ahead of you, including shoulders and sidewalks, to spot pedestrians before you approach them.

2. Stay alert and avoid distracted driving. Assuming they have the right-of-way, many pedestrians walk into the street without confirming that oncoming traffic is aware of their presence. Pedestrians—especially children—are often hidden in between parked cars or behind other objects, including stopped or turning vehicles. To avoid an accident, stay alert by avoiding distractions. Do not eat or drink, fiddle with the radio or navigation units or use a cell phone while driving.

3. Show caution. There are likely areas in your community where you can anticipate pedestrians. At crosswalks and intersections, drive slowly and stop for pedestrians looking to cross—even if they are not at a marked crosswalk. When stopping at an unmarked point, stop far enough in advance so that the drivers behind you can also prepare to stop. Furthermore, when approaching a red light, be sure to stop far enough behind the line for pedestrians to cross safely.

4. Be respectful. Do not show hostility or aggression to drivers who are yielding to pedestrians. Never honk when the driver in front of you has stopped, and do not attempt to pass the stopped vehicle in front of you.

5.Watch for children. Because of their small size, children can be difficult to spot. Drive slowly and be on the lookout in school zones and residential neighborhoods.

 Safe walking is sometimes just as important as safe driving. If you’re on the pedestrian-side* of the road, adhere to these five safety tips:

 1. Use the sidewalk. If the street is not designed for pedestrians, avoid walking on it. Do not walk on highways or in restricted zones.

2.  Obey “walk” and “do not walk” signs. Jaywalking is an illegal offense for which you can receive a ticket.

3. Do not make assumptions. Don’t assume that a vehicle will stop for you just because you are waiting to cross. Try to make eye contact with the driver before initiating crossing. Do not cross multiple lanes of traffic without making sure drivers in all lanes see you. If you’re in a busy city, do not cross without looking both ways—even when you have the pedestrian “walk” symbol—as drivers do occasionally run red lights.

4. Do not walk long distances under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Just as you should never drive under the influence, do not walk long distances or in traffic-heavy areas when you are under the influence. Call a taxi or use public transportation.

5. Be courteous. When a driver stops to allow you to cross, give him or her a quick wave to demonstrate your appreciation.

 For more resources and additional information on how to stay safe on the road, consider taking a driver improvement course, such as AARP Driver Safety’s classroom or online courses, available in both English and Spanish.  You may even be eligible for an insurance discount upon completion of the AARP Driver Safety course.  Check with your insurance agent for details.  For more information, visit or call 1-888-AARP-NOW (1-888-227-7669).

Julie Lee, Vice President and National Director of AARP Driver Safety, has more than 30 years experience in management, strategic planning, transportation and safety. With AARP for over eight years, Lee directs the largest driver improvement course designed for drivers age 50 and older.

*RCW 46.61.250-When there is no sidewalk, pedestrians must walk on the left side of the road.