Do We Trust Too Much?

SoapboxI was walking to my vehicle after work yesterday and watched the woman on the sidewalk ahead of me approach the intersection. She did not hesitate to step into the crosswalk even though a vehicle on her left had stopped halfway across it waiting to enter traffic. The driver was watching intently to her left waiting for a gap in traffic. The pedestrian checked her stride and I thought that she was going to wait for the driver to notice her before she crossed in front of the vehicle.

Not so. She walked around the front of the vehicle and just about became another statistic. The driver had found her gap and began to roll forward at the same time as she looked to her right to make sure that she had a gap to enter. Finding a pedestrian just inches ahead of her hood ornament must have been quite a surprise, but her reflexes were good. She managed to jam on the brakes and come to a stop without touching the pedestrian.

Our pedestrian should have stopped where she checked her stride and waited to make eye contact with the driver. Once the driver had seen her and she evaluated her safety to cross the driver's path, she may or may not have proceeded forward. Instead it was either no thought at all or complete trust in the driver looking both ways again before moving and allowing the pedestrian to cross. I'll give her the benefit of a doubt and assume the latter.

Giving your trust to the other road user is something that must be calculated very carefully before you do it. Obviously, if you do and the other road user doesn't merit that trust the outcome can be significant. I must be a bit more on the paranoid side because I stopped at the curb and waited for the driver to clear the intersection before I looked around and then proceeded because it was safe.

You're absolutely right, of course.  If there's one thing that I drilled into my kid's head when he was growing up, it's that as a pedestrian you're utterly vulnerable, and the best defence is to ensure that the driver in potential conflict with you has seen you.

Being in a marked crosswalk doesn't help, that's where most dead pedestrians breathe their last; sorry if that sounds cynical, but it's true.  And it's usually safer to cross in the middle of the block (giving total right of way to vehicles) than at a crosswalk anyway.

Sometimes, you'll see pedestrians - older folks, quite often - standing at the corner of an intersection waiting for an opportunity to cross, and so you stop for them; that's what the law requires anyway, in most circumstances.  But instead of taking the opportunity, they will all too often - sometimes in an irritable fashion, ironically - wave you on.  They don't seem to have realized that the driver/vehicle who hits you won't be the one you have seen, and made eye contact with - the driver/vehicle that hits you will be the that hasn't seen you, or that you have failed to see.  And then it's too late.

Drivers also need to keep in mind though that sometimes pedestrians will wait to cross the road mid-block, fully realizing that they are obligated to let traffic pass before they do so.  Instead, these drivers will stop for no good reason, sometimes waving the pedestrian to cross.  This is all wrong; you're not a traffic warden, and pedestrians - kids in particular as they're accustomed to following an adult's direction - need to make their own decisions on what to do.

A final thought and then I'll shut up.  In driver training, we're always using mantras such as 'assess/predict/execute' or more simply 'see/think/do'.  And it's just way too easy for a driver to commence an action before they've looked into their own path of travel, as you have described.

Again, you won't get hit by the driver who has seen you; you'll get hit by the driver who hasn't.

The way I see it, there are several fail-safe systems in place to prevent collisions:
1) Public engineering
2) Public education
3) Driver training

Public engineering ensures that all points of interactions between categories of traffic (pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles) are well marked, properly aligned to each other, with sufficient sight lines and proper notice.

Public education ensures that people look left, right and where-ever the traffic MAY come from at any particular point of interaction (crossing).

Driver training ensures that drivers allow themselves sufficient safety margins to react to failures of the first two fail-safes.

I always cringe when the first two systems fail, as I feel wrongfully entrusted with people's lives.
Every time a pedestrian is in my way, whether they have the right of way or not, I take notice whether they are looking out for me and other potential hazards. And when I see the backs of people throwing themselves in-front of the mass traveling at speed and I have to make adjustments, I ponder the value of life, and what would have happened had I not been looking on the road.

I find drivers usually make better pedestrians - as they are the only category of pedestrians that routinely does shoulder checks for the left turning vehicles.

What is the protocol for a pedestrian when they approach an uncontrolled crosswalk?

Do you not STOP, look left, look right (maybe left and right again), make eye contact with the driver once they have a chance to stop, then proceed with caution.

OR, do you just walk across, with your head down, or with your baby buggy in front of you, or ride your bike across, thinking that hey, I am in the cross walk, you can damn well slam on your brakes because I am in a safe zone.

I have experienced and witnessed this growing phenomenon over the last few years and it is frightening.

Could you maybe address this in a column and help me, and a few thousand daily drivers because I constantly hear, and experience this on a daily basis.

The other day I was turning on a green light and was halfway through the intersection when a woman with her baby buggy in front of her, crossed against the "do not walk" signal, fingered me and shouted profanities and continued walking across the busy intersection.

If I am in the wrong, then please tell me.  I do not even have the chance to stop sometimes because many irresponsible people seem to be caught up somewhere else to notice what they are doing and someone is going to get hurt (or have been hurt)

... is kind of complex.

The 'protocol' you refer to makes sense, but isn't written into law as such (besides, why would a pedestrian stop if walking through their own quiet neighbourhood and there was clearly no traffic around - you wouldn't do that, and neither would I).

The Hong Kong 'Road Users Guide' devotes the first twenty or so pages to instruction for pedestrians as to how they should conduct themselves in various situations.  In the UK 'Highway Code' (that country's best-selling publication, incidentally) similar attention is given to wise and legal pedestrian behaviour.

Here in BC, the 'Learn to Drive Smart' guide is about all we've got.  They give it away free, which may be an indication of the value of it.  Advice on how to behave as a pedestrian is limited, at best.

Meanwhile, pedestrian (and cyclist) education in schools is provided.  Sometimes.  At a Grade 2 level or whatever.  Otherwise it's up to parents.  Ahem.

And when it comes to law, well that's when you get into the whole issue of licensing, and neither pedestrians nor cyclists are required to be licensed, which is ironic considering that they're the most vulnerable road users.

There is law governing pedestrian behaviour, of course; both in the provincial Motor Vehicle Act and oftentimes also in the local Municipal By-laws.  And there are lots of officers out there who could potentially be handing out tickets to pedestrians who break the law.  At one time, a few decades back, that's what would actually happen - and pedestrians would be aware of it, with the astonishing result that most of them, most of the time, would behave in an intelligent and legal manner.  But nostalgia's not what it used to be, and even the lawmakers don't seem to understand that pedestrian walk/don't walk signals were invented to stop pedestrians from walking, not to enable them (which they would otherwise be able to do any time the light was green); instead they now provide these stupid countdown numbers to encourage pedestrians to dash into the crosswalk at the last possible (and far from legal) moment.  It's retarded, the whole situation.

But meanwhile, you ask "If I am wrong, then please tell me.  I do not even have the chance to stop sometimes ... "

Hmmm you might have to think about that one.  Because if any driver is driving faster than their range of vision allows them to stop within, then they're technically speeding; and that might well mean approaching uncontrolled intersections where there are lots of parked cars around at well below the actual speed limit; and it certainly means ensuring that proceeding into or out of any intersection - no matter what the pedestrian signal says, or how the pedestrian behaves - is only attempted when the way is clear.

At risk of sounding pessimistic, it's only going to get worse.  The number of teenagers and others with their eyes glued to their phones as they step out is only going to increase, along with nannies and young mummies shoving prams ahead of them as they pay scant attention to traffic.  And all you can do as a driver is drive defensively while you curse the whole system that brought this about.