Road worriers: Pedestrians in peril

With more people out walking, some aren’t following the rules of the road.

If you're walking with traffic, like this person, you're doing it wrong, according to safety experts. — Rich Saltzberg

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.”



  1. I have always been amazed at how people can walk with their back to traffic, and trust that every single driver going by them is paying attention.
    So while it is good to walk facing traffic, it is the law to ride a bicycle with traffic.
    I do occasionally see people riding a bike against traffic. Often children who apparently were never told by their parents. Riding with traffic does a number of things.
    First , it reduces the oncoming speed of an approaching vehicle.
    If the bike is doing 10 mph, and the car is doing 35, you are closing on each other at 45 mph riding into traffic, and only 25 riding with it. There is more reaction time, and if there is a collision, it would be at slower relative speed. Also, drivers look at where they expect to see a vehicle. If you are making a turn, you are crossing traffic from an unexpected place.
    Do not ride on sidewalks– there are more obstacles, ( like pedestrians ) vehicles coming on to the main road are not expecting anything there,and you could fall off the curb, falling into traffic. That is what tragically happened to a woman in V.H years ago.
    Vehicles should share the road, and be attentive to the presence of bicycles, particularly when making a left turn.
    Personally, when I am on state road going into town and go through the look street intersection , or 5 corners, I take the center of the lane so I am as visible as possible.
    Be careful, wear a helmet, and enjoy.

  2. I have always been amazed at how people can walk with their back to traffic, and trust that every single driver going by them is paying attention.”

    Without a doubt. The few times I am walking on any road, I always walk against traffic.

    Informative post. Thank you.

  3. Not mentioned, but much more important: IF YOU ARE DRIVING, SLOW DOWN! So much speeding right now.

  4. I’m having an “Is this a Joke?” moment. We’re supposed to believe people are so incapacitated by corona virus hysteria that they can’t walk safely? Come on, people. In the summer, when there are 100,000+ people here on any given day, do we see carnage and chaos from pedestrian strikes? No. So why should this suddenly be a newsworthy crisis? Time to get a grip, folks.

    • wesley– i think the point of the article was directed at people who rarely take a walk. since people are not doing their usual 9-5 routine somewhere, and are bored sitting in their living room’s they might get the idea to take a walk– something they perhaps have never done.
      I do see more people walking on the streets– This article may have informed some people about pedestrian safety– after all, many people do walk on the wrong side of the road.
      The purpose of this article is to help inform people about personal safety.
      Why are you upset about an article that is advocating some personal safety measures ?
      And just to be clear, Wesley, people are not “incapacitated by corona virus hysteria that they can’t walk safely? ” Corona has nothing to do with walking safely.

      • Don, Unlike some who’ve held differing opinions with you who I won’t name (cough-sounds like “Sandrew”), I believe you are a thoughtful, intelligent and decent individual who is capable of holding a conviction while entertaining other points of view. I think we both agree that safety and being well-informed is a good thing. Where we may diverge in opinion is in regard to the necessity of a feature article to detail walking on the side of the road. When you say that taking a walk for come people is “something they perhaps have never done,” I find that hard to fathom. Is that the world we’re living in, where taking a walk is a novel experience for an adult? I’m not upset by the article- please consider it more of an eye roll than a conniption. When I was a kid, the key to avoid getting hit by a car was to “Stay out of the darned road.” When I was a teenager, the key to avoid hitting a pedestrian was “Stay on the darned road.” Do we really need more than that in 2020? Whether CVDS (Corona Virus Derangement Syndrome) is a novel psychiatric condition is a conversation for another day- I’m not going to weigh in on that one here. Walk safe.

        • Wesley,

          Your postings are always a pleasure. Superior writing skills with cogent thoughts aplenty.
          I should be so lucky.

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