There’s been a positive side effect to everyone working from home and staying at home — a lot of people going out for daily walks, some people multiple times a day.
But not every road on Martha’s Vineyard has sidewalks, and it seems that some people are unaware of the “rules of the road” for safety.
The idea for this reminder was sparked by Scott Allen Hershowitz of Mocha Mott’s. “It’s hard to see or find much of a silver lining to the madness out there for some, but it sure has gotten a lot of [us] outside, and that’s for certain a great effect,” he wrote in an email to The Times. “But in trying to keep with social distancing, not having to pass by others enjoying the outside face-to-face, and for general safety, I think some folks need reminding of the rules/etiquette of sharing the road with cars.”
Sgt. Jeff Day of the Tisbury Police Department agreed that a positive side effect of the stay-at-home orders is that people are getting outside and enjoying the spring weather. “We are fortunate that we have a lot of sidewalks in town, a lot of safe places for people to exercise,” he said.
Day said there is no law regulating which side of the road a pedestrian walks on when there’s no sidewalk, but for safety sake walking against traffic is recommended.
Alex Epstein, director of traffic safety for the National Safety Council, said deaths from car crashes are down, but pedestrian deaths are on the rise.
“Well, it’s great to be able to get out and walk especially in the beautiful part of the world where you all live. The number one thing that you should be doing as a pedestrian is to be aware of your surroundings at all times,” Epstein said. “Stay as far away from traffic as you possibly can. That means that if there are sidewalks or lawns where you are welcome to walk, please do, and stay out of traffic lanes as much as possible.”
And if there’s no sidewalk?
“If no sidewalk is available, you should walk facing traffic,” he said. “That means if you’re walking, instead of walking with traffic on the right side of the road, you’re walking against traffic on the left side. The reason for that is simply so you can see oncoming traffic and take steps to avoid that traffic if they don’t see you. That can be serious in this age of distraction . . . You have to be able to save yourself, if you will, and see oncoming hazards.”
Epstein said the stay-at-home orders across the country may be adding to the distractions so that drivers have been driving faster and more recklessly.
“There is some evidence that in some cities this is happening, so you have to take steps and be aware of traffic and be sure you’re taking whatever steps are necessary, no pun intended, to avoid traffic.”
Here are some safety tips:
- The safest time to walk is during the day. A lot of this is about visibility, making sure you can be seen by drivers. Most of the pedestrian fatalities nationwide occur at night.
- You should not walk impaired, just as you shouldn’t drive impaired. You want to make sure your judgment is not clouded.
- You should unplug from any electronics. A lot of people like to wear earphones when they walk and power walk to music. “The downside to that is you lose focus on your surroundings and you put your safety at risk.” He suggests enjoying the surroundings.
- If you’re walking with kids, make sure they’re on the safe side of the road. “You can be a shield between them and the oncoming traffic.”
- Streets should be crossed at crosswalks. If one’s not available, you should move to a spot where you can see traffic. “You look left, then you look right, then look left again. The reason is because oncoming traffic may be in the lane, they seem far away when you look left the first time, but when you look right and see the coast is clear, you want to look left again before you step off into traffic.”
Pedestrian and bicycle fatalities are on the rise, while cars are seeing fewer fatalities, Epstein said.
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, there were 6,283 pedestrians killed in traffic crashes on public roads, a 3.4 percent increase over the previous year. The National Center for Health Statistics estimates there were 7,860 pedestrians killed in traffic or non-traffic incidents in 2018.
While the bulk of those fatalities are in urban settings with 4,975 deaths, there were 1,147 in rural settings. For the remaining 161, the location wasn’t specified.
“We call them vulnerable road users,” Epstein said. “These vulnerable road users have to be aware that more drivers are driving distracted, the same issues of speed, impairment, distraction are still plaguing drivers, and pedestrians and bicyclists have to take the steps they can to be visible to these drivers and be aware of their own safety.”
Day said he likes what he’s seeing with the number of people who are keeping busy by getting away from the television and getting outside. He emphasized the importance of maintaining good social distancing practices in crosswalks and on sidewalks.
“It’s good that people are getting out and burning off stress,” Day said. “That decreases the calls we get for conflicts. It’s important for people to continue an exercise routine so stress levels are reduced.”