Pedestrian safety in Washington State

Most of us are pedestrians at one time or another every day. We usually take for granted that we can walk without incident, because most of the time we do. However, collisions still occur.
Two children walking on a sidewalk

Injury Minimization Speed Management Workgroup

Led by WSDOT, this multi-agency, multi-jurisdiction work group worked 2019-2020 to develop policies and guidelines to achieve vehicle travel speeds that minimize fatal and serious injury crashes. To address the needs of all users, the proposed policies and guidelines would emphasize lower speeds where appropriate, on state routes, city streets, county and tribal roads. The intent is to support implementation of an injury minimization speed limit methodology prioritizing multi-modal exposure areas. 

The group finished its work in December 2020 and produced a framework that jurisdictions can use as the basis for their own version. Since WSDOT launched this effort other resources have also been produced, giving agencies several sources of information on ways to achieve speeds appropriate for the mix of people and uses.

Background - In each of the past five years, there has been an increase in the number of pedestrians killed on the roads of Washington State, more than doubling since 2013.  According to Washington’s Target Zero Plan, vehicle-traveling speed is a critical factor and one of the key first steps to addressing deaths and serious injuries among pedestrians and bicyclists.  The status quo of road design and speed limit setting is not resulting in the reductions needed to achieve Washington’s Target Zero goal of zero pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities by 2030.  The Washington State Pedestrian Safety Advisory Council confirmed the findings in the Target Zero Plan and recommended the formation of this group.

 

Even though Washington has a record for pedestrian safety that compares favorably to many other states, collisions do happen and we must continue to improve the safety record.

Washington is aggressively pursuing goals outlined that will make pedestrians and bicyclists even safer in the state, outlined in the:

Statistically, young children and the elderly are more likely than others to be killed or injured in a pedestrian collision.

The best way to avoid collisions is to be prepared and be aware of vehicles around you. While the law assigns pedestrians the right of way, it does not relieve pedestrians of using due care for their own safety. 

Safety Tips for Pedestrians

  • Walk on sidewalks. If sidewalks are not available, walk on the edge of the road or on the left shoulder of the road, facing the traffic flow. Use pedestrian bridges when they are available.​
  • Take care when crossing. Pedestrians are most often hit by drivers while crossing the road. Use marked crosswalks and signalized intersections when available. Every intersection is a legal crosswalk under Washington law unless it is marked as closed or where it’s located between two signalized intersections you could cross at. In addition to intersections, driveways are another place where you can expect to encounter drivers or bicyclists exiting or entering. Take an extra moment to confirm that you can cross safely.
  • Look left, right, and left for traffic. Stop at the curb and look left, right, and left again for traffic. Stopping at the curb signals drivers that you intend to cross. Always obey traffic signals.
  • Walk where you can be most visible. Drivers need to see you to avoid you.
    • Carrying a flashlight when walking in the dark will help you see and avoid irregularities in the sidewalk or shoulder as well as help drivers spot you.
  • Watch your children. Small children should not cross streets by themselves or be allowed to play or walk near traffic. They cannot accurately judge vehicle distances and speeds and may make movements a driver can't predict.
  • Drinking and walking? Alcohol can impair the judgment and motor skills of pedestrians just as it does for drivers. Don't take alcohol risks with walking, just as you would not with driving. Take the bus, take a cab, or have a friend drive you home. Beware of the effects and interactions of prescription and non-prescription medications and drugs, too.
  • Obey traffic signals. At intersections where traffic is controlled by signals or a traffic officer, pedestrians must obey the signal and not cross against the stop signal unless specifically directed to go by a traffic officer.

Safety Tips for Drivers to Save Lives

  • Stop for people in crosswalks — every intersection is a crosswalk. It’s the law. Drivers must stop for pedestrians at intersections, whether it’s an unmarked or marked crosswalk, and bicyclists in crosswalks are considered pedestrians. Also, it is illegal to pass another vehicle stopped for someone at a crosswalk. In Washington, the leading action by motorists that results in them hitting someone is failure to yield to pedestrians. 
  • Put the phone down. Hand-held cell phone use and texting is prohibited for all Washington drivers and may result in a $136 fine for first offense, $235 on the second distracted-driving citation. 
  • Don’t drive impaired. Lack of sleep as well as alcohol and other substances reduce your ability to see, decide, and react in time. 
  • Look and then look again before turning. The majority of pedestrians and bicyclists hit by drivers in Washington state are struck as they are crossing the road.
  • Watch for people walking or biking near senior centers, schools, community centers, shopping districts, and other destinations. 
  • Pass at a safe distance. Darkness and weather conditions may affect a driver’s ability to gauge distance. Leaving an extra safety buffer in time and space when passing people gives you more ability to see and react, and it’s also the law. Be aware that a bicyclist needs to be positioned in the lane a safe distance away from opening car doors, grates, and other hazards not visible to a driver. Drivers need to move into the other lane when possible or leave at least three feet while passing (RCW 46.61.110).
  • Drive the posted speed limit, or slower if conditions make visibility difficult. If a driver hits a pedestrian or bicyclist at 20 mph or less, there is an estimated 95 percent survival rate; at 30 mph, a pedestrian has only a 5 percent chance of walking away without injury and the death rate jumps to 45 percent. The driver trying to save a few seconds by speeding could end up taking someone’s life. 
  • Use your lights. Daytime running lights make your vehicle more visible to other road users; make it a habit to use them. Many car headlight systems were found to provide relatively poor performance in studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway SafetyAnother study by AAA and the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center found that more than 80 percent of vehicles on the road have low-beam headlights that don’t provide adequate illumination for stopping distance at speeds more than 40 mph.