Review the Facts
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The following facts provide a snapshot of key information every law enforcement officer should know. For more detailed information regarding each fact, click on the associated links below.
- Fact #1: Walking and bicycling to school has declined sharply. (statistics)
- Fact #2: Motor vehicle speeds are critical to pedestrian and bicycle safety.
- Fact #3: Motorists often do not yield to pedestrians at crosswalks.
- Fact #4: Pedestrian signals are often misunderstood by pedestrians.
- Fact #5: Safe crossing behavior at intersections is a critical skill.
- Fact #6: Bicyclists riding in the roadway must ride in the direction of traffic — it's the law.
- Fact #7: Pedestrians and bicyclists need to be more visible.
- Fact #8: Bicycling on the sidewalk can cause problems.
- Fact #9: Bicycle helmets save lives! (tips for fitting helmets)
Fact #1: Walking and biking to school has declined as parents safety concerns have increased.
- In 1969, about half of all students in the U.S. walked or bicycled to school.  Today, fewer than 15 percent of all student trips to/from school are made by walking or bicycling. About 25 percent take a bus, and over half are driven in private automobiles.
- Aside from distance, traffic safety is among the top reasons parents do not feel comfortable allowing their children to walk or bike to school. Fear of crime also plays a role. In a national survey, nearly 12 percent of parents reported that fear of crime was a barrier to walking and bicycling. Concerns include fear of kidnapping, gangs, bullying and other violence.
- A national survey found that nearly 60 percent of parents and children walking to school encountered at least one serious hazard. Commonly cited hazards included lack of sidewalks or crosswalks, wide roads and speeding drivers.
- A national survey of speeding in school zones found that two-thirds of drivers exceeded the posted speed limit during the 30-minute period before and after school.
Fact #2: Speed matters: Crashes at speeds of 30 mph are eight times more likely to kill the pedestrian than crashes at speeds of 20 mph.
- For both stopping distances and severity of crashes, speed matters. If a driver is traveling at 40 mph and suddenly spots a pedestrian in the road 100 feet ahead and begins to stop, he will on average still be traveling 38 mph on impact. If the driver is traveling at 25 mph in the same situation, the driver will be able to stop before the pedestrian is struck.
- A pedestrian struck by a motor vehicle going 20 mph or lower has only a 5 percent chance of being killed in the crash, or of dying later as a result of the injuries sustained. At 30 mph, the chance of death is 37 percent to 45 percent. At 40 mph, pedestrian death is fairly certain — an 85 percent chance.
Fact #3: Many drivers do not know they must yield to pedestrians at crosswalks.
- In many locations yielding rates are consistently under 50 percent and sometimes as low as zero.
- Many drivers believe yielding for pedestrians is required only in certain situations, such as at a signalized intersection when the pedestrian WALK indication is given.
- Many drivers do not know that legal crosswalks exist at intersections even when they are not marked and that the yielding requirements are the same as if the crosswalks were marked (see diagrams at right).
- The sidebar provides a selected list of situations where (in most States) motorists are required by law to yield to pedestrians. These situations are among those that are most likely to be misunderstood or disregarded by motorists. The list can be used by officers as a guide to locations where students may be most likely to need the added protection that a crosswalk yielding enforcement operation can provide.
Fact #4: The average citizen does not understand the phases of a pedestrian signal.
Research has shown that pedestrians do not fully understand the meanings associated with the three phases of a pedestrian signal:
- Phase 1: WALK (walking person symbol)
- Phase 2: Flashing DONT WALK (upraised hand symbol)
- Phase 3: Steady DONT WALK (upraised hand symbol).
The phase that is most misunderstood is the flashing DONT WALK. Many pedestrians incorrectly interpret the flashing DON'T WALK to mean either:
- Pedestrians believe they should have completed their crossing, or
- Pedestrians believe it is "OK" to begin crossing from the curb because the steady DON'T WALK signal is not yet displayed.
Both of these interpretations are wrong.
(For a live demonstration of actual signal operation view this webpage: http://www.walkinginfo.org/pedsmart/c.htm)
The flashing DON"T WALK phase is a clearance interval. Law enforcement officers can assist in educating the public regarding the correct meaning of the signal. The DON'T WALK signal means:
- Pedestrians should complete their crossing if they are in the street or
- Pedestrians on the curb should wait until the next WALK signal before proceeding to cross.
(For a live demonstration of actual signal operation view this webpage: http://www.walkinginfo.org/pedsmart/c.htm)
Law enforcement can help better educate the public regarding the meaning of pedestrian signals and encourage the public to make safer decisions regarding when to cross the street.
One recent innovation that is helping pedestrians better understand walk phases is the installation of countdown pedestrians signals. These signals include the traditional signal head, as well as a number display, programmed to countdown the number of seconds a pedestrian has remaining to cross the street before a green signal is given to the cross traffic.
Fact #5: Safe crossing behavior at intersections is a critical skill for pedestrian safety.
Many parents find that crossing at mid-block locations seem simpler, safer and more direct than crossing at an intersection. This creates a challenge for law enforcement officers and other traffic safety educators who try to teach children to cross at intersections and to encourage them to always do so. Understanding some of the typical reasons people cross at midblock locations can help you better encourage parents to curb this behavior for the sake of child safety and education.
The Challenges of Crossing at Intersections:
- Typical signalized intersections presents multiple threats, such as oncoming left-turning vehicles, right-turning vehicles coming from behind, and vehicles approaching on the cross street.
- Many mid-block locations significantly reduce the number of potential threats to the pedestrian. Pedestrians will often cross one direction of a busy road away from an intersection and wait on the median before crossing the opposite flow of traffic.
- At intersections, motorists routinely fail to yield to pedestrians despite the law, signs, striped crosswalks and signals.
- Intersections are often engineered to favor the motorist over the pedestrian, including with free-right turn lanes, long distances between intersections, bus stops located away from intersections, and d) poorly designed or maintained pedestrian signals.
Reinforce Parental Involvement:
- Parents should model safe and legal behaviors when crossing the street with children. Developmentally, children do not have the capacity and experience to judge vehicle travel speeds and gaps between vehicles to safely cross at mid-block locations between signalized intersections. Parents modeling mid-block crossing with their children may lead to a child presuming that this is a lawful safe way to cross the street.
- Parents should not allow children under age 10 to cross the road without an adult or responsible person — or trying it on their own without the skills and maturity to do so successfully.
- Children need ongoing education and reinforcement of safe street crossing habits. Many signalized intersections are complex, reinforce: stopping at a curb or corner before crossing, looking left, right, left before beginning to cross, constant scanning while crossing the street, and making eye contact with motorists to better ensure the motorist sees the pedestrian.
Fact #6: Bicyclists riding in the roadway must ride in the direction of traffic — it's the law.
In all 50 States, a bicycle in the roadway is considered a vehicle or is afforded the same rights and responsibilities as a vehicle. As a vehicle, bicycles should always travel with the flow of vehicular traffic. Many uninformed bicyclists believe that they are safer riding against traffic on the left hand side of the roadway, because they can see oncoming motorists and will be able to take evasive action if needed to avoid a collision. Riding in the same direction of traffic, however, makes bicyclists more visible to other drivers and makes their movements more predictable. This increases the safety of both bicyclists and motorists.
Lack of Safety in Wrong-Way Riding
- Reason #1: Wrong-way bicyclists are not where a motorist looks when they check for approaching traffic. For example, a motorist intending to turn right at a stop sign looks left for traffic, and does not see a bicyclist approaching from the right.
- Reason #2: Wrong-way bicyclists present a serious hazard to other cyclists who are bicycling lawfully on the right side of the street — they may collide head-on or cause another cyclist to swerve into traffic and be hit by a motor vehicle.
- Reason #3: Wrong-way cyclists cannot see traffic signs or signals. By law, cyclists riding in the roadway are considered vehicles and are required to follow the same rules of the roadway as vehicles.
Fact #7: Use of sufficient lighting and/or reflective materials by pedestrians and bicyclists will enhance their visibility.
Fourteen percent of children and twenty-four percent of adults hit by cars when riding bicycles were riding in dark, dawn, or dusk conditions.
Children walking or bicycling to school during fall, winter and early spring months, are at increased risk due to lower visibility during pre-dawn (arrival hours) and late afternoon (departure hours). Studies have shown that wearing light colored clothing (white or yellow) is not sufficient to increase conspicuity in the street environment. Use of bright colored clothing, active lighting, and reflective equipment and materials of sufficient surface area are critical to enhance their visibility.
While walking and riding at nighttime is discouraged for children, if they must do so, parents need to be taught how to enhance the safety of their children. Parents should:
- Map out routes with their children that include routes that are well lit.
- Purchase flashlights for their children if they are walking; purchase a white headlight to attach to the front of the bike if bicycling.
- Purchase reflective materials to wear or apply to clothing and materials such as shoes, backpacks, jackets, helmets, etc. to make them more visible to traffic.
- Reinforce the use of materials by their children. The purchase of materials does no good if it isn't used.
Most States require a white front light and red rear reflector when bicycling at night.
Note: red flashing lights put on the back of a bicycle, helmet, or backpack seem to be enhance visibility more than a steady light.
Fact #8: Bicycling on the sidewalk can cause safety problems at driveways and intersections.
Children's ability to bicycle safely in traffic will grow and change as they get older, and as they become more skilled and learn more about safe interaction in traffic. Most children under age 10 are not ready to ride in traffic and are encouraged to use the sidewalk or low volume residential streets with caution.
Many States have more specific bicycling laws in jurisdictions, including but not limited to unlawful sidewalk riding in downtown areas, or unlawful riding on sidewalks for bicyclists over a certain age. In general, when teaching bicycle safety, the following guidelines are recommended:
- For adults bicycling on the sidewalk is not safer than bicycling in the roadway, and is strongly discouraged.
- Children under age ten are typically not ready to bicycle in traffic, and are encouraged to use primarily sidewalks, or very low volume residential streets.
- Even when riding on sidewalks, child bicyclists should be accompanied by a supervising adult cyclist who knows the potential dangers of sidewalk riding.
- To remain safe while bicycling on a sidewalk, speeds must be kept low and extreme caution must be exercised at each street and driveway crossing, including signalized intersections.
- Youth, ages 10–14, are likely to use both streets and sidewalks, and may go back and forth between the two depending on their route to and from school.
- When using sidewalks youth should be encouraged to ride only in the same direction as the traffic on their left, so that if/when they re-enter the street they are not riding against motor vehicle traffic.
- While on sidewalks, they should follow the guidelines above.
- When in the roadway, they should maintain a straight and predictable travel line and obey all traffic signs and signals.
- When bicycling on a sidewalk, children and others are legally obligated to operate as a pedestrian, this means:
- bicyclists must obey all pedestrian signals
- bicyclists must yield to pedestrians on the sidewalk
- child bicyclists should walk their bicycle through crosswalks
- At whatever age children are permitted to ride in the street without supervision, they should know and have the necessary skills to safely follow the rules of the road.
Fact #9: Wearing a properly fitted bicycle helmet has been proven effective in preventing head injuries and saving lives when crashes occur.
- Since bicycle crashes can occur anywhere to anyone, bicycle helmets should be worn by all, regardless of age.
- Adults should model correct behavior by wearing their own helmets and ensuring that their helmets and their children's are properly fitted. For information on properly fitting a helmet see: