By Rhonda Oaks/TxDOT
I sat in front of the local big box store watching the crowd and contemplating whether I really needed what I went there for. I hate crowds and I am a power shopper, meaning I go straight in and out of a store. I don’t need to look at everything before I make up my mind about what I want. As I watched almost every shopper crossing the parking lot either looking at their phone, texting or just not paying attention, it dawned on me those storefront crosswalks might give pedestrians a false sense of security.
Pedestrian fatality rates are on the rise and TxDOT is frantically trying to figure out why. TxDOT currently has safety campaigns that include television and radio spots, billboards, and other safety messages in hopes of getting your attention to this growing problem. You can help. Put away all electronic devices and pay attention to what is going on around you when you are walking or driving.
As I watched the traffic that day, I noticed the store had big stop signs erected at the crosswalk so the customers could get safely into the store without stopping for traffic. And while that is legal at any crosswalk, the pedestrians are assuming that motorists will stop anywhere they might choose to cross a street. Pedestrians should always yield to traffic. Not the other way around. Drivers are only required to stop for pedestrians at legally marked crosswalks or when directed by law enforcement or school crossing guards.
I had a customer ask me, or rather argue, that all motorists should yield to pedestrians, no matter where they are located. Don’t be fooled into believing motorists are required to yield anywhere you choose to walk. Of course, a motorist will not deliberately hit a pedestrian. It’s usually a matter of not seeing them or the pedestrian has stepped out into traffic.
In October 2021, there were 631 crashes in Texas involving pedestrians that resulted in 90 pedestrian fatalities. In 2021 in the Lufkin District, there were 49 crashes involving pedestrians that resulted in 18 fatalities and 17 serious injuries. As the days grow shorter, the chances of crashes involving pedestrians increase. From 2020 to 2021, we saw them increase by 15 percent.
As a motorist, when you see a pedestrian, keep your eyes on them. Pay attention as you drive and put your phone away. Always be ready for them to step into traffic. They might not see you, and they might not be listening or paying attention.
As a pedestrian, cross only at crosswalks or intersections. Make eye contact with motorists before you cross the roadway, even in a parking lot. Use a sidewalk if there is one available. Listen and pay attention. At night, wear bright or reflective clothing or carry a flashlight.
If you are still confused about pedestrian law, check out the Texas Transportation Code, Title 7, Vehicles and Traffic; Subtitle C, Rules of the Road; Chapter 552, Pedestrians.
If motorists and pedestrians will follow these suggestions and the law, I believe pedestrian fatality rates could decrease. Getting your attention is the first step. Look up. Look both ways before crossing and don’t walk in the street. It’s the same simple lesson we were taught as children. We just need to relearn it.