A Simple Guide For Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety

SOCORRO, N.M. January 15, 2015 – I am an avid pedestrian and bicycle rider. Working on the campus of New Mexico Tech I witness some of the most unsafe behaviors imaginable from these two groups of people. As the State Mine Inspector, I am also a safety professional and I’d like to offer a safety message on the subjects of pedestrian and bicyclist behavior, with special emphasis on some of the most observed issues.

As a point of reference, the Center for Disease Control reported that in 2012, 4,743 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in the United States, and another 76,000 pedestrians were injured. This averages to one crash-related pedestrian death every 2 hours, and a pedestrian injury every 7 minutes. Pedestrians are 1.5 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to be killed in a car crash on each trip.

With that in mind, Techies should remember that a few precautions can save lives.

Here are four actions you as a pedestrian can take to be safer:

·              Increase your visibility at night by carrying a flashlight or wearing a headlamp when walking or jogging and by wearing retro-reflective clothing.

·              Whenever possible, cross the street at a designated crosswalk or intersection. People are often unwilling to walk a few extra steps to the crosswalk, where drivers are more likely to expect to see pedestrians.

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Cyclists and pedestrians will be safer after following these tips.


·              Walk on a sidewalk. If no sidewalk is available, pedestrians should walk on the shoulder and facing traffic. Too many drivers are using their phones or otherwise distracted while driving. When walking in the same direction of traffic you have no idea when drivers might take their eye off the road, look at their phone and swerve into you.

·               Re-think music players and mobile phones when you are a pedestrian. It’s more important to hear what's around you when you're walking or jogging than when you're driving. Whether you want to be a pedestrian with headphones is your choice, but doing so does increase your risk. Similarly, texting or talking with a mobile phone raises the risk level. When you're mixing with car traffic, the fewer distractions the better.

Cycling Safety

Much of this material was taken from the tip on the excellent website, http://bicyclesafe.com/. The two most often given pieces of advice are:

·                     Wear a helmet

·                     Obey traffic laws the same as autos.

Most cyclists have heard both of these things many times and the advice on his website goes way beyond these general aspects.

Some other important points are listed below and the website has excellent detail on the top 10 types of collisions involving bicycles.

Some of the most unsafe behavior that I have seen involves the following:


·                     Get a headlight. If you're riding at night, you absolutely should be using a front headlight. It's required by law, anyway. Even for daytime riding, a bright white light that has a flashing mode can make you more visible to motorists who might otherwise Right Cross you. Look for the new LED headlights which last ten times as long on a set of batteries as old-style lights. And headlamps (mounted on your head or helmet) are the best, because then you can look directly at the driver to make sure they see your light.

·                     Get a rear light. If you're riding at night, you absolutely should use a flashing red rear light. Bicycle safety expert Bruce Mackey said that 60 percent of bike collisions in Florida are caused by cyclists riding at night without lights. In 1999, 39 percent of deaths on bicycles nationwide occurred between 6 p.m. and midnight.

·                     Wear a reflective vest or a safety triangle. High quality reflective gear makes you a lot more visible even in the day time, not just at night. I had a friend ride away from me while wearing one during the day, and when she was about a quarter mile away, I couldn't see her or her bike at all, but the vest was clearly visible. At night the difference is even greater. Bike shops have vests and triangles for $10 to $15. Also, when you hear a motorist approaching, straightening up into a vertical position will make your reflective gear more noticeable.

Don’t bicycle with distractions

·                     Re-think music players and mobile phones. It's more important to hear what's around you when you're biking than when you're driving. Whether you want to ride with headphones is your choice, but doing so does increase your risk. Similarly, texting or talking with a mobile phone raises the risk level. When you're mixing with car traffic, the fewer distractions the better. Also, you'll want both hands free in case you have to brake suddenly.

Get and use a mirror

·                     If you don't have a handlebar, helmet or glasses mirror, get one now. Glance in your mirror before approaching an intersection. Be sure to look in your mirror well before you get to the intersection. When you're actually going through an intersection, you'll need to be paying very close attention to what's in front of you. Since you will be able to hear cars approaching, look in your mirror to see if they are giving enough clearance. Mirrors are particularly valuable on bike paths where other bikes approach silently.

Don’t Ride On Sidewalks

·                     Crossing between sidewalks is a fairly dangerous maneuver. If you do it on the left-hand side of the street, you risk getting slammed by cars turning right from an intersection or cars turning right onto the street you are crossing. If you do it on the right-hand side of the street, you risk getting slammed by a car behind you that's turning right. Sidewalk riding also makes you vulnerable to cars pulling out of parking lots or driveways. Plus, you're threatening to pedestrians on the sidewalk, who could get hurt if you hit them. These kinds of accidents are hard to avoid, which is a compelling reason to not ride on the sidewalk in the first place. In addition, riding on the sidewalk is illegal in some places.

Campus Police Chief George Murillo has seen his share of close calls and dangerous situations on campus as well. He said that, with increased enrollment, our campus is becoming more congested and busier – and more dangerous.

“Bicyclists and pedestrians need to stay alert and aware,” he said. “They need to make sure they are looking both ways and have respect for traffic laws.”

Murillo stressed the point that bicyclists should follow all traffic laws, including stopping at stop signs and staying off sidewalks.

Most importantly, don’t ride on the wrong side of the street. I have witnessed bicyclists almost run over in the following scenario.

You're riding the wrong way (against traffic, on the left-hand side of the street). A car makes a right turn from a side street, driveway, or parking lot, right into you. They didn't see you because they were looking for traffic only on their left, not on their right. They had no reason to expect that someone would be coming at them from the wrong direction.

Murillo made another good point. Bicyclists should also be aware of doors opening on cars parked along the roads, especially on Leroy Place and College Avenue.

Even worse, you could be hit by a car on the same road coming at you from straight ahead of you. They had less time to see you and take evasive action because they're approaching you faster than normal (because you're going towards them rather than away from them).

How to avoid this collision: Don't ride against traffic. Ride with traffic, in the same direction. Riding against traffic may seem like a good idea because you can see the cars that are passing you, but it's not. Here's why:

1.                  Cars which pull out of driveways, parking lots, and cross streets (ahead of you and to the left), which are making a right onto your street, aren't expecting traffic to be coming at them from the wrong way. They won't see you, and they'll plow right into you.

2.                  How the heck are you going to make a right turn?

3.                  Cars will approach you at a much higher relative speed. If you're going 15mph, then a car passing you from behind doing 35 approaches you at a speed of only 20 (35-15). But if you're on the wrong side of the road, then the car approaches you at 50 (35+15), which is more than twice as fast! Since they're approaching you faster, both you and the driver have lots less time to react. And if a collision does occur, it's going to be at a faster relative speed.

4.                  Riding the wrong way is against the law and you can get ticketed for it.

One study showed that riding the wrong way was three times as dangerous as riding the right way, and for kids, the risk is seven times greater.

Nearly one-fourth of crashes involve cyclists riding the wrong way. Some readers have challenged this, saying if 25 percent of crashes are from going the wrong way, then riding the right way is more dangerous because it accounts for 75 percent of crashes. That idea is just wrong. First off, only 8 percent of cyclists ride the wrong way, yet nearly 25 percent of them get hit – meaning wrong-way cyclists really are three times more likely to get hit than those who ride the proper way. Second, the problem with wrong-way biking is that it promotes crashes, while right-way biking does not. For example, cyclists running stop signs or red lights is 17 percent of their crashes. But do we therefore conclude that not running signals causes 83 percent of crashes?! (Hint: No.)

Who is most at risk? Older adults, children and people who have been drinking. Pedestrians ages 65 and older accounted for 20 percent of all pedestrian deaths and an estimated 9 percent of all pedestrians injured in 2012. In 2012, more than one in every five children between the ages of 5 and 15 who were killed in traffic crashes were pedestrians. Alcohol involvement for the driver or the pedestrian was reported in 48 percent of the traffic crashes that resulted in pedestrian death. Where alcohol involvement was reported, 34 percent of pedestrians killed had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of greater than or equal to 0.08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) and 14 percent of drivers had a BAC of greater than or equal to 0.08 g/dL.

Additionally, higher vehicle speeds increase both the likelihood of a pedestrian being struck by a car and the severity of injury. Most pedestrian deaths occur in urban areas, non-intersection locations, and at night.

So, Techies, please take a few precautions to make our campus a safer place for yourself and for others.

– NMT –

By Terence Foreback/New Mexico Tech