A Walk On the Wild Side

by DavalosMcCormack on October 20, 2009

Who knew that using your feet would mean taking your life into your hands!

An article by C. W. Nevius in the San Francisco Chronicle last week looked at how dangerous it is to be a pedestrian in San Francisco. He pointed out that half the traffic fatalities in San Francisco are pedestrians, compared to only around 15 or 20 percent in other similarly sized cities.

The standard reaction to a pedestrian fatality is to blame bad drivers, motorists distracted by talking on the phone, texting, tuning the radio, changing the CD or staring at their iPod trying to decide what to listen to next, drinking coffee, even putting on makeup.

But I also think we need to add another group to that list – clueless pedestrians.

I ride a scooter around town and have learned through painful experience to always be hyper vigilant. I start each journey by assuming the other motorists on the road are drunk, crazy, blind or all three – that way I don’t allow myself to believe that they see me or even know what they are doing. Sadly, all too often my assumptions are proven correct.

But I also make the same assumptions about pedestrians. It never ceases to amaze me how many pedestrians seem blissfully unaware of the world around them.

Every day I see people crossing the street against a red light, often when there is traffic whizzing by. Every day I see people walking down the street reading a book or newspaper, not watching where they are going (this might explain why the number of newspaper readers is declining rapidly – they are all dying because they are too busy reading the paper in the street and not paying attention to what’s around them) Every day I see people walking around, listening to music on their iPods or other devices, lost in their own little world. And every day I see tourists standing in the middle of the road, trying to get one of those quintessential San Francisco photos of steep hills and breathtaking views.

It’s no wonder that every so often an unaware pedestrian gets hit by a distracted driver – with the driver always coming out on top.

Now, I’m not blaming pedestrians for being hit any more than I am saying motorists are always to blame – I’m saying we all have to take responsibility for our own actions and our own behaviour.

I know if I don’t pay close attention to everyone and everything around me then I could easily end my journey in the Emergency Department of my own hospital – not that they aren’t lovely, skilled people in the ED, it’s just that I want to be a colleague, I don’t want to be a customer.

All it takes is one driver suddenly changing lanes without signaling, or for a pedestrian to walk out from between two parked cars, at night, wearing all black, and my future is precarious.

Everyone needs to be aware of where they are and what they are doing.

Last year the American College of Emergency Physicians released a report warning about the dangers of what they called “oblivious texting”, people who injured themselves or were even killed because they were trying to text people while walking down the street. Some walked into lamp posts and bashed their head. Some stepped off a curb into oncoming traffic. Neither resulted in a happy ending. And for a text!!

Maybe we need to put signs on street corners and busy intersections saying “Before operating feet, engage brain.”

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