Why the number of cyclists, walkers hit by cars is likely to rise in coming months

The fall and approaching winter mean days are getting shorter, and traffic safety advocates note that 76% of pedestrian deaths happen after dark. That means a spike in the number of pedestrians and cyclists struck is probably on the way.

“Visibility is really key for pedestrians,” said Maryland Motor Vehicle Administrator Christine E. Nizer.

Walkers are encouraged to wear light-colored clothes, especially at night. Cyclists should have lights on their bikes. Both could wear something reflective, Nizer said. And everyone, including drivers, needs to pay attention.

“Clearly, just remain alert. Right? You want to make sure that you’re paying attention to what’s around you and that you’re aware of things at all times,” Nizer said.

Nearly one-third of all the people who die on D.C.-area roads are walking or biking. Car crashes claimed 99 pedestrians last year.

“Every number is a person whose family is never the same again,” Nizer said.

This year’s Street Smart fall safety campaign features a collection of testimonials about people whose lives were lost or shattered because of preventable mistakes on local roadways.

“Unfortunately, in my role as a highway safety representative, I get to meet a lot of these families and it is difficult. Their stories stay with me,” Nizer said.

“I just hope that everybody takes that message to heart — that each of us as a driver has a responsibility, each pedestrian, each bicyclist. And if we look out for each other, then more people can arrive home safely, and that’s really the goal we all share,” she said.

Street Smart safety tips for drivers:

  • Slow down; obey the speed limit.
  • Come to a complete stop at traffic lights and stop signs.
  • Watch and wait for people using crosswalks.
  • Yield to walkers and cyclists when making turns.
  • Watch out for people stepping in the road for social distancing.
  • When passing bikes, give them at least 3 feet of space.
  • After parking, look for cyclists before opening the door to exit.
  • Avoid using your cellphone while driving.
  • Never text while driving.

“It’s not worth the speeding; you’ve got to slow down,” Nizer said. “With each and every one of those things, at the end of the day, would it really be worth it if you were involved in a crash and ultimately your life was lost, or the life of someone else?”

Street Smart safety tips for walkers:

  • Double-check for traffic if you’re stepping into the street for social distancing.
  • Always cross at the corner, and use the crosswalk if there is one.
  • Make sure drivers see you before you start to cross the street.
  • Before crossing, look left, right, and left again.
  • Use sidewalks and designated walking paths when possible.
  • Watch for turning vehicles.
  • Pay attention to everyone around you — drivers, cyclists and other walkers.
  • Wear something bright or reflective, especially after dark, to help others see you.
  • Stay off your cellphone, especially when crossing the street.

Street Smart safety tips for people on bikes:

  • Wear a helmet.
  • Just like cars, obey signs and signals.
  • Don’t ride against traffic.
  • Use bike lanes when they’re available.
  • Use hand signals to show drivers your intentions.
  • Use lights at night and when there’s poor visibility.
  • Ride in a straight line at least 3 feet from parked cars.

In addition to the Street Smart initiative promoting road safety regionwide, Maryland has its own campaign underway, called Be The Driver … Who Saves Lives.

In coming months, it will target aggressive driving, impaired driving, distracted driving and motorcycle safety, as well as pedestrian and bicycle safety.

And for the first time, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has declared October National Pedestrian Safety Month.

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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