Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Road Rash

With summer upon us I think it is time to discuss a real threat to our safety on the roads. Often I have written about this and identified drivers as those who needed to improve their habits to preserve the safety of pedestrians - but I think it's time to talk about both pedestrians and drivers, and their individual roles in all this.

It is deeply troubling that there have been some pedestrian fatalities this year. One, a hit and run, occurred north of the city while another occurred on the highway to the airport. Both are incredibly sad incidents, and while I won’t speculate as to the causes I would suggest we all need to take a much closer look at our responsibility as drivers in respect to pedestrians and the responsibility of pedestrians, too.
A few weeks ago I was stopped at a marked crosswalk. Two cars in the oncoming lane were also stopped, and a young man with a backpack was midway across the crosswalk. Suddenly, in my peripheral vision, I saw a white blur on my right hand side. A white truck blazed past me, through the intersection, and far, far too close to the pedestrian for comfort.
I was sorely tempted to chase down the driver and explain to him what had almost just happened, but he sped away so quickly that I knew I would be unlikely to catch him. I felt shaken because he was going fast enough that had he hit the pedestrian I am sure the injuries would have been severe, and possibly even fatal. I wondered if the driver even knew that he had just driven through a crosswalk, if he had been so distracted or so clueless that he hadn’t even noticed the pedestrian crossing. All I knew was that it was deeply unsettling. It reminded me of the tremendous responsibility we have as drivers to ensure the safety of those who share our roads.

We all know that speed, driver inattention and plain negligence can be a huge factor in the safety of pedestrians in our community - but I think we also need to look at another side of the equation: the pedestrians.

The behaviour exhibited by some pedestrians in this community is pretty abysmal. Jaywalking, crossing against the light, stepping out from in between parked cars...and I am talking about adults, not children.

When I was six I walked out from in between two parked cars, going against everything my parents had ever taught me - and I was struck. Fortunately it was not a car, but a bicycle. I was not seriously injured, but hurt enough to never, ever walk out from between two parked cars again (and the cyclist was pretty damn shaken up, too, having just mowed down a six-year old kid who came out of nowhere). I became pretty fastidious about pedestrian safety after that incident as even at that tender age I recognized that if it had been a car and not a bicycle I would have likely shuffled off this mortal coil decidedly early in life. Most of us had that pedestrian safety drilled into us as children - so how is it as adults that we have forgotten or decided to ignore decades of sage advice?

Personally I find it particularly bad on Franklin Avenue right in front of the Jubilee Building. The examples of egregious pedestrian behaviour are many, including those who walk right out into traffic and simply expect it to stop, on a major roadway and far from any crosswalk or streetlight. And they don't just walk, they saunter out into traffic, not looking either way, blissfully unaware or uncaring that thousands of pounds of metal are screeching to a halt in order to not reduce them to a smear on the pavement.

And yes, in case it has escaped you this does irritate me, and it is tremendously bad behaviour modelling for our children. If it was a kid doing this we would be talking about spankings, but when it is an adult in a suit and shiny shoes we simply sit behind the wheel and fume.

The reality is that we ALL have a role to play in pedestrian safety, and while drivers can be in error so can the pedestrian. While an inattentive driver may end up with a record and even jail time for a collision with a pedestrian they will almost certainly get off easier than the pedestrian, who may incur serious injury - or die - as a result of the incident.

I am truly concerned about this as our community continues to grow. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to safety, whether we are behind the wheel or the one on the sidewalk. Instead of pointing fingers at the "other guy" we need to evaluate our own behaviour and how it could contribute to the rash of road incidents we are seeing between vehicles and pedestrians.

And if you are crossing Franklin in the middle of the street, not looking either way and just assuming traffic will stop for you? I'll be the one laying on the horn and making sure everyone notices you, because I might not be able to spank you but I can sure as hell try to embarrass you into protecting your own safety instead. Consider yourself getting off lucky, because it could be much worse next time you decide to take your life in your hands.

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