As Ketchikan drivers, we know how difficult it can be to see pedestrians, especially during the wind and rain of an October storm.
Compounding visibility issues are those of distractions (cell phones, for example). Impatience, too, can be a factor.
Combine the wrong factors at the wrong moment and lives change. Often irrevocably.
In 2019, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration counted the traffic-related deaths of 6,205 pedestrians nationwide. 2020 saw the ‘largest annual increase in the rate of pedestrian fatalities, according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association that represents state and territorial highway safety offices. As of Oct. 5, Alaska had recorded 13 pedestrian deaths, according to the office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy
And as we’ve noted here many times before, pedestrians have suffered traffic-related injuries and fatalities here in Ketchikan. We’re not immune.
We mention it yet again on a day that the forecast is calling for high winds and heavy rains — a regular feature of October in the First City and other Alaska communities. Perhaps that’s why October is Pedestrian Safety Month in Alaska.
The governor’s proclamation cites walking and biking as “healthy and eco-friendly” transportation options in Alaska, but “unfortunately pedestrians and cyclists are at a unique disadvantage when involved in traffic accidents.”
Dunleavy encouraged “all Alaskans to renew their commitment to safe driving practices, to watch for pedestrians and cyclists, and to be aware of all who share the road.”
Mutual awareness of the roadway safety is key, meaning that vehicle operators and pedestrians can do their parts to enhance safety, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
The NHTSA website’s page on pedestrian safety goes beyond vague generalities and provides some specifics.
For example, the walking safety tips for pedestrians includes some of the following ideas:
• Be predictable by obeying signs and signals.
• Walk on sidewalks when available. If there is no sidewalk, walk facing traffic and as far from traffic as possible.
• Keep alert at all times; don’t be distracted by electronic devices.
• Cross streets at crosswalks or intersections, where drivers expect pedestrians. Look for cars in all directions, including those turning left or right. Don’t assume that a driver sees you. Make eye contact with drivers to make sure you are seen.
• Be visible at all times. Wear bright clothing during the day, and wear reflective materials or use a flashlight at night.
The NHTSA has tips for drivers, too. Some of these include:
• Watch for pedestrians everywhere, at all times.
• Use extra caution in hard-to-see conditions, such as nighttime or bad weather.
• Slow down and be ready to stop when turning or otherwise entering a crosswalk. Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and stop well back from the crosswalk to give other vehicles a chance to see the crossing pedestrians so those vehicles can stop, too.
• Never pass vehicles stopped at a crosswalk —there could be people crossing that you can’t see.
• Follow slower speed limits in school zones and in neighborhoods where kids are present.
• Be extra cautious when backing up — pedestrians can move into the vehicle’s path.
All of this is good advice. Putting these tips into practice can go a long way in helping us all get to where we’re going safely.