Author: Kirsten Barber
On December 1, 2023, the Governor’s Highway Safety Program held its annual tree lighting ceremony to honor the lives lost to traffic-related incidents in our state during the past year. Each of the 1,798 ornaments hung on the Tree of Life represented a person who died as a result of a collision on a North Carolina road.
Pedestrians and cyclists are especially vulnerable to fatal traffic accidents. In 2022, 16 percent of North Carolina traffic fatalities involved people who were walking or biking. According to 2021 Department of Transportation (DOT) data, motorcyclists were 24 times more likely to die in a crash than passenger vehicle occupants. Fortunately, there are steps all of us can take to make our roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
Tips for Pedestrians
At some point, all of us are pedestrians. It is a good way to stay fit and an environmentally friendly way to travel. Some communities are friendlier to foot traffic than others, but there are steps you can take to make your walks safer wherever you go.
• Obey all road signs and signals. You want to make it easy for drivers to anticipate your movements.
• Walk on the sidewalk if possible.
• If there isn’t a sidewalk available, then walk facing traffic and as far from it as you can. That way, oncoming vehicles won’t take you by surprise.
• Cross the street at intersections or crosswalks or in a well-lit area with a good view of traffic in all directions.
Always look both ways for traffic, even if vehicles are only supposed to be coming from one direction. Just because you are following all the rules doesn’t mean everyone else is. I cannot tell you how many times I was nearly taken out by e-scooters and skateboarders during college because they were barreling down the one-way streets in the wrong direction.
Tips for Cyclists
When you are on a bicycle or motorcycle—or any other personal transportation device, for that matter—you are a vehicle, and you must follow the rules of the road as if you were behind the wheel rather than handlebars. Drive defensively and predictably. Maximize your visibility, as well. Bright clothing, reflective materials for you and your bike, and turning your lights on in dim conditions are good ways to make sure drivers notice you.
It's important to take precautions against injury in case an accident should occur. Always wear a well-fitting helmet. Motorcycle helmets should meet the DOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218. Check for the DOT symbol on the back of the helmet.
Tips for Passenger Vehicles
When you’re driving a car or other passenger vehicle, it’s important to keep pedestrians and cyclists in mind. Safe drivers share the road. Check for pedestrians at all times and in all places, especially when backing up. Slow down and be prepared to stop at crosswalks whether you see anyone entering them or not.
Be aware of cyclists driving near you, and check for nearby cyclists in parking lots, at stop signs, when backing up and when turning right on red. It can be easy to miss the smaller vehicles coming up alongside yours in these situations. Do not pass too closely to cyclists. Pass them as you would another moto vehicle: in an adjacent lane, when it is safe to move over.
“As law enforcement officers, we often see how lives are changed in an instant due to the reckless choices made by a driver to speed, drive while impaired or drive while distracted,” said First Sergeant Chris Knox with State Highway Patrol. “Our hope is that all roadway users will join in our mission to save lives on the roadways as we hope to bring an end to these preventable tragedies.”
We can all do our part to make the roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists. One day maybe we can make our state’s roads so safe that there won’t be a single ornament to hang on the Tree of Life.