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7 Tips for Pedestrian Road Safety this Walktober

3 minute read

Soak in the sunshine and put some more spring into your step if you haven’t already because while Walktober and Pedestrian Safety Month is almost finished, it’s not too late to join in and spread the message of pedestrian road safety.

Walktober is an annual health awareness and fundraising event that challenges people to move for 31 minutes of every day for 31 days in October. From reducing the chance of heart disease, diabetes, improving sleep, mood and self-perception, physical activity as simple as walking has several physical and mental health benefits.

However, these benefits can only be reaped if you’re walking safely.

Increased distractions in the form of mobile phones, busier roads and a lack of safe infrastructure have increased pedestrian vulnerability. In 2018, over 180 pedestrians were killed on Australian roads.

While that number has steadily declined over the past few years, there have still been 126 pedestrian deaths so far in 2021 nationwide.

So, what steps (no pun intended) can we take to minimise the risk of injury while walking this October onwards?

1. Watch where you walk: Guidelines and rules for walking as a pedestrian vary from state to state, but common safety practices include crossing a road in the shortest or most direct way, giving way to vehicles at roundabouts, and walking on footpaths or nature strips where possible.

If no footpath is available, walk on the side of the road where you’ll face oncoming traffic as it increases the likelihood that you and other road users will see each other.

2. Follow the road rules: Obeying traffic instructions, relevant road signs, crossing signals and choosing to cross at marked crossings, traffic lights or pedestrian refuges where available, are just some of the road rules you should practice as a safe road user.

While it may be tempting to hurriedly cross the roads or jaywalk, crossing at busy intersections or while not allowed can lead to penalties, fines, or serious injury.

3. Scan the road and make eye contact with oncoming drivers: When walking on the road, it’s safer to assume that a driver has NOT seen you until you can physically see that a car has stopped.

According to overseas studies, one effective way to ensure a driver has seen you is to make direct eye contact with them before stepping off a kerb. One French study found that direct eye contact led to approximately 68% of drivers stopping for the pedestrian.

4. Avoid using your mobile phone or earphones while walking: The prevalence of smartphones or digital devices in our everyday lives have led to an increase in distracted walking. Research conducted in Hobart found that out of 16,000 pedestrians, almost 2,000 used their mobile phone while crossing. In a similar study in Sydney, 33% of 546 pedestrians crossed city roads whilst on their phone.

A form of inattentional blindness, distracted walking becomes dangerous when pedestrians focus on tasks like scrolling or texting and fail to notice cars, or objects entering their visual field. Such impairment of visual awareness can impact crossing times and decision-making behaviours, which are only amplified further when audibly distracted through earphones.

5. Avoid walking intoxicated: Inquiry into 10 years of injury data in Queensland found intoxication to be a factor in 7% of pedestrian injuries. As intoxication increases the risk factor for pedestrian “at fault” collisions with vehicles also grows, with 20-40% of those involved in pedestrian fatalities producing a BAC of more than 0.05.

While the decision to walk home rather than drive while drunk is a good Plan B, making sure you have a sober walking buddy or taking another form of transport such as an Uber could mean the difference between making it home safe or not.

6. Wear bright or reflective clothing when it’s dark: Whether it’s early in the morning or late at night, wearing brighter or reflective clothing can be helpful in keeping you visible on the roads. Research in NSW highlighted that of the pedestrian fatalities recorded, almost a quarter are hit between 5pm to 9pm.

If going for a walk or run, opt for reflective activewear, wear brighter colours so drivers can see you as they drive by and stick to lit streets where possible.

7. Watch for cars in driveways too: While many pedestrian crashes occur on main roads, crosswalks or intersections, another area where fatalities occur are on driveways. In Australia, the majority of those impacted by driveway fatalities are children or young teenagers.

In fact, while approximately 47 children are seriously injured in driveways every year, more than five are killed. Relevant factors include; children running about, walking to school, drivers speeding or children misjudging events and walking behind reversing vehicles that they are often smaller than in height.

If walking with children, always be sure to hold their hand or teach them to walk not run on footpaths, and to scan ahead for reversing or oncoming cars.

Pedestrian safety is our shared responsibility. With more than half of distracted walking injuries occurring in our own homes, the need to stay aware as a pedestrian or a driver, has never been more important.

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