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Behind-the-Wheel

A near-miss story

I received a detailed e-mail from a lady who described walking beside Willingdon Road southbound in North Saanich during the early morning darkness.

She paused, looked both ways for traffic and continued to the point where Willingdon begins and Canora Road diverges to the northeast. 

She stopped and checked for traffic again from the small island between lanes. Finding none, she began to cross the single lane.

At this point, a vehicle approaching from the south began to accelerate and the driver switched from low to high beam headlights.

Feeling threatened, the lady ran the rest of the way across the road, narrowly avoiding a collision with the vehicle. She earned a blast of the horn for her efforts.

Being generous, she wonders if the use of the horn was because the driver was also reacting to a bad scare.

She is also curious to find out if she was to blame for the situation and feels that a street light and marked pedestrian walkways would improve safety at the location.

As a wise pedestrian, this person has chosen a safer place to cross the highway. She’s effectively using the traffic island as a refuge while she observes and decides on proceeding.

Had she been walking in the opposite direction, by crossing here she would have cut a three-lane crossing to two and one, minimizing her exposure to vehicle traffic.

There is no indication of what she might or might not have done to identify herself to approaching drivers. In the absence of street lighting, light clothing, reflectors, arm bands, flashlights or wands can be very useful to establish a presence.

Drivers cannot react to things that they do not see or see soon enough to avoid.

Pedestrians tend to overestimate how visible they are to drivers.

On the other side of the windshield, drivers must always be attentive for both the expected and the unexpected, including yielding to pedestrians who don’t have the opportunity to cross in well-lit intersections with marked crosswalks.

The law imposes a duty not to collide with a pedestrian on a highway and to warn the pedestrian by using the horn if necessary.

We tend to drive at night much the same way we drive during the day. This has serious implications for things like pedestrians and wild animals when they are not within the cone illuminated by our headlights.

During daylight, they are generally easy to see, but at night, if they are not lit by headlights they are effectively invisible. Don’t overdrive your headlights.

From an engineering perspective, painted crosswalks cost money to create and maintain. Unless there is a reasonable volume of pedestrian traffic that uses the crosswalk, there is more sense in saving that cost for use elsewhere.

They can even be dangerous as some pedestrians treat them as an entitlement rather than calculating whether it is safe to do so before and during their use.

No doubt the same cost/benefit criteria is applied to street lighting.

This story serves to underline that interactions between pedestrians and drivers are co-operative in nature. The highways are not for the exclusive use of one over the other.

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About the Author

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement experience. He has been writing his column for most of the 20 years of his service in the RCMP.

The column was 'The Beat Goes On' in Fort St. John, 'Traffic Tips' in the South Okanagan and now 'Behind the Wheel' on Vancouver Island and here on Castanet.net.

Schewe retired from the force in January of 2006, but the column has become a habit, and continues.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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