Drivers and cyclists don’t want to have collisions with pedestrians but it does happen, and unfortunately people who are blind or have low vision face additional challenges to staying safe when navigating road crossings, footpaths and other public areas.
In fact, new research by Monash University Accident Research Centre found that 35% of people who are blind or have low vision have had a collision or near-collision with an electric / hybrid vehicle and 78% of people surveyed have had a collision or near-collision with a bicycle.
It could be because drivers and cyclists are distracted, don’t know the pedestrian road rules or have a lack of understanding and appreciation of the needs of people who are blind or have low vision. Roads have also become much busier in recent years, so it is important drivers, cyclists and pedestrian do their part to respect each other and stay safe.
Vision Australia Manager Orientation and Mobility Training Michelle Sharples said people who are blind or have low vision generally rely on sound to stay safe when travelling on footpaths and crossing roads, but it’s becoming harder to do as roads become busier, more pathways are shared with cyclists and with the rise of electric / hybrid vehicles.
To help combat this, here are her top 10 tips on road safety in a modern world.
1. Being visible is very important. Consider using a mobility aid like a white cane or Seeing Eye Dog and wearing bright clothing (some people even wear hi-vis) to make sure you’re seen.
2. If you’re travelling at night, try adding a light or using a torch.
3. Avoid crossing a road where you are not visible to oncoming traffic, for example don’t cross the road between parked cars, near a corner, or on the crest of hill.
4. Use designated, or controlled crossings wherever possible and use the shortest and most direct route across the road. Michelle said, “It’s always a safer choice to commence crossing at the beginning of the green signal to allow maximum visibility and more time to cross the road”
5. Even when using a controlled crossing, it is best to wait a moment or two and make sure cars aren’t running a red light. In the modern world, roads have become much busier and there is a tendency to rush. We all need to take that into consideration to maintain our safety as pedestrians.
6. Predictability and communicating our intentions when crossing a road are also important. If you use a white cane you can show drivers and cyclists you are waiting to cross by holding the cane diagonally across your body. When you decide it is safe to start your crossing, make a visible flourish with your cane as you move it to a frontal position to show your intent to cross.
7. Plan your travel route choosing safer places to cross busy roads, even if it means you have to walk a little further. Let’s face it most of us need the additional exercise and you really don’t want to tangle with a car you don’t see coming. Habits can be hard to change including where we choose to cross a road, but if your vision or hearing has changed, or the traffic is busier, then you may need to consider if your level of risk has changed too. Often there can be a better crossing option not too far away.
8. Be aware of how conditions like background noise and physical features in the environment can mask the sound of cars, e.g. lawnmowers, traffic noise, construction sites, or even buskers in city.
9. Be mindful of how your vision might fluctuate in different conditions and compensate accordingly. Some people may find it harder on a glary day or at dusk and this may change the way you need to travel.
10. When travelling on the footpath listen out for cars that might be reversing from driveways or coming out of laneways. In these circumstances, pedestrians have right of way, but sometimes drivers may not see you or they don’t know the rules, so its pays to stay alert.
Michelle also reminded everyone that we should follow general pedestrian safety guidelines: walk on footpaths, stop, look, listen, stay alert and don’t rush. Orientation and Mobility Specialists can help if you have any concerns with crossing roads, or navigating your community safely.
Vision Australia clients can request training to improve road crossing skills and confidence, review a challenging road crossing, or can freshen up their white cane skills by contacting Vision Australia and talking to an orientation and mobility specialist on 1300 84 74 66 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image caption: client Micah Cheung learning to use a white cane at the Leigh Garwood Mobility Training Centre with orientation and mobility specialist Jessica Timmons.