As a walk- and bike-friendly community, many of us at Princeton try to get out from behind the wheel as much as possible, especially when the weather is warm.
Unfortunately, as recent tragedies remind us, the “orange bubble” is not immune to the dangers faced by pedestrians and bikers everywhere. In fact, New Jersey is designated a Focus State by the federal government due to a high number of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities.
Nationwide, pedestrian deaths are up 46 percent since 2009, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In 2016, nearly 6,000 pedestrians were struck and killed by vehicles on public roads in the U.S.
Cue the Smartphone
As numbers of walkers and bikers increase, good safety behavior is not keeping up. And this is largely due to the rise of the smartphone.
“As smartphone ownership has increased in recent years, we’ve seen motor vehicle crashes rise and pedestrian fatality increases reach record levels,” affirms Cheryl Kastrenakes, executive director of the Greater Mercer TMA, a nonprofit partnering with Street Smart NJ on local pedestrian safety initiatives.
“People aren’t just talking on their phones while driving—they’re texting and scrolling too, activities that require a good amount of attention,” she says. “Pedestrians and cyclists are particularly vulnerable since they’re less likely to be seen when glancing up from a phone.”
Smartphone use by walkers, too, is a major contributor to the rising accident rate. Distracted walking, according to the National Safety Council, leads to “losing focus on our surroundings and putting our safety—and the safety of others—at risk.”
“Stop using phones while walking, and not just in crosswalks and intersections,” the Council advises.
In addition to looking at the screen and being distracted by texting and scrolling, smartphones also encourage headphone and earbud use, which has been linked with increased risk of injury and death.
The best way to stay safe with earbuds is to be extra vigilant—notice your surroundings and be alert for any possible surprises, such as a person or vehicle coming up behind you. Yet another reason to keep your eyes away from the black mirror!
Under the Influence
Impairment due to drugs or alcohol is, of course, a high-risk factor—and not just for drivers. One surprising fact is that, in accidents involving the death of pedestrians, studies have found the walker is more likely to be impaired than the driver; 34 percent of these accidents involved an impaired pedestrian, compared to 18 percent involving an impaired driver.
“Clearly everyone, whether a motorist, pedestrian or cyclist, needs to assume personal responsibility to keep themselves and others safe,” Kastrenakes says.
Call a ride or walk with a sober buddy if you’ve had too much to drink or are otherwise impaired, and hold off on behavior that may distract yourself or others (shouting, singing, etc.) while on the move.
Where possible, choose the safest alternatives for walking. Plan your trip to cross busy roads at well-lit intersections with crosswalks, pedestrian refuge islands and walk signals. At night, wear brighter-colored or reflective clothing, and try to avoid walking alone.
Safety on Campus
It may be an orange bubble, but you’re not wearing bubble wrap! Safety matters on campus just as much as off. When you’re hurrying between classes, be sure to stay alert and keep an eye out for hazards such as uneven or cracked stairs and walkways (especially in the spring after a winter of freezing and thawing), club cars, and debris such as slippery leaves or fallen branches.
Bikers on campus must slow down and be extra vigilant when moving through crowded areas. Do not lock bikes against handrails and park them away from building entrances and pedestrian pathways. Use crosswalks and follow all traffic laws when biking on roads within the campus.
Takeaway Tips: Pedestrian and Bike Safety
- Be Visible. Wear light-colored or reflective clothing to increase your visibility to drivers. This is especially important when walking or biking at dusk, when risk of fatal accidents is at its highest. Choose well-lit routes whenever possible. Bikes should always be equipped with reflectors and lights.
- Be Alert. Mom was right—always look both ways before crossing the street, every time (even one-way streets, since cars might be backing up or bikers riding against the grain). Avoid headphone use, and keep your eyes up—save device usage for when you are not on the move!
- Be a Rule Follower. Draw outside the lines all you want, but when walking or biking, stay within the crosswalk or designated lane. Cutting a few seconds off your trip by cutting across traffic is never a good idea.
- Be Sensible. Make good decisions. Don’t walk or bike if you’ve had a few too many; find a buddy to lend a hand or call for a ride. Don’t be the distractor—by yelling, calling out or otherwise taking others’ attention away from crossing streets or navigating a challenging route.