High visibility: Pedestrian and driver safety for driving in the dark

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As we head into the fall, days get shorter, and nights get longer, which means we will all spend more time driving and walking in the dark. Nighttime driving heightens safety risks and calls for added precautions and awareness to help protect everyone, especially our children.

Hayrides, trick or treating, evening sporting events or even a simple walk can be more dangerous in the evening because it is much more difficult for drivers to see pedestrians. It is vitally important for everyone to be aware of the increased risk and understand and take the necessary steps to make pedestrians, especially children, more visible.

It perhaps comes as no surprise that Halloween is the deadliest day of the year for child pedestrians. Children are three times more likely to be fatally injured by a car on Halloween than any other day. Sadly, this risk increases by a factor of ten for children from ages four to eight, another stark reminder of the significant dangers that come with an earlier sunset. Statistics like these make it abundantly clear that drivers and parents should take a little extra care to ensure that everyone makes it home safely when out after dark.

Pedestrian safety

The rapidly evolving field of assistive technology is most often noted for its role in making the world more accessible to people with disabilities. Still, this technology can also help in other areas. There are numerous devices and apps on the market specifically designed to help promote the safety of people walking after dark, whether out for an evening stroll or simply walking through a parking lot to their car after enjoying dinner at a restaurant.

Devices

It is difficult to say that one can be “too safe” in today’s world. Ironically, some of the same items we all carry with us to make us safer, such as cell phones, are also expensive items that can make each of us targets for an assault and attempted theft. Phones can also cause us to be distracted from our surroundings, which can be dangerous. Nevertheless, several devices can help protect you when you’re out and about at night:

  1. Personal alarm: Coming in every conceivable size and shape, personal alarms are designed for one primary purpose, to generate enough noise to attract attention to you and simultaneously send a potential attacker running away. Alarms can also attract help if you do not have your phone and need help if you’ve been injured.
  2. Pepper spray: Pepper spray can temporarily blind and hurt an attacker, allowing a victim the time and space to escape and call for assistance.
  3. Emergency flashlight: An emergency flashlight can immediately shine a light on a threatening situation, disorient a potential attacker, and, with larger flashlights, strike a defensive blow. Flashlights can also help you see and be seen better when you are walking at night.
  4. Self-defense keychain: These devices come in various formats that can be clipped onto your keychain and enable you to employ one or more embedded defensive tactics, including pepper spray, hidden knives, whistles, personal alarms and flashlights.
  5. Micro stun gun: Tasers and stun guns have been used by police for quite some time and, more recently, have been made legally available for personal defense in much of the country.
  6. Smart jewelry: Self-defense has become fashionable with smart jewelry, which packages formally bulky, loud panic buttons into attractive, wearable accessories.
  7. Tactical pen: Otherwise a working pen, this device is heavier and adds pressurized cartridges and very sharp ballpoints, serving as effective weapons.
  8. Ripple 24/7 personal safety monitor: The Ripple wearable safety device can be programmed to send messages to family, friends or a monitoring service alerting others of your location and that you are in danger.
  9. Portable door lock: These easily installed locks can work anywhere you go to add a temporary lock to the inside of a room, which could be helpful if you are using a public restroom or any other public shelter where you feel you could be at risk.
  10. SL force alarm: This simple device activates a 130 db “screaming siren” with the pull of a string and serves to disorient an attacker and alert others of trouble, bringing attention to you when you are in danger.

Apps

It seems that there is an “app” for almost everything today, and it is therefore not surprising that apps for personal safety have appeared and proliferated. As with any market where apps have become popular, the numbers and types of personal safety apps can be confusing. Do your research and select products that fit your and your family’s specific needs. Here are some examples of popular personal safety apps.

  • Life 360: This app allows users to create a narrow social network of family and friends for sharing locations and seeking help for roadside assistance or any other kind of trouble.
  • Zich: Zich is a unique personal safety app with various safety options such as sending alerts with voice commands and even programming bogus incoming phone calls to disrupt potentially dangerous situations.
  • Kitestring: As the name suggests, Kitestring helps keep you tethered to others by setting up automatic texts to be sent to you and alerting others if you don’t respond.
  • bSafe: A voice-activated SOS button alerts anyone you have pre-programmed and allows them to hear everything that is taking place with you at that time, and records the events that transpire for law enforcement action later if necessary.
  • Walk Safe: This app incorporates a map that displays crime figures drawn from law enforcement reports and helps you avoid potentially dangerous areas or routes.
  • Red Panic Button: Pushing the “Red Panic Button” immediately dials an emergency number and sends danger messages via email, text, Twitter, and Facebook.
  • iOKAY: You can employ iOkay to send alert messages to a group you pre-select and share your location.
  • Watch Over Me: A unique safety app that activates with a simple shake of your mobile phone to alert designated people and turn on your video recorder to automatically record what’s happening.
  • Silent Beacon: This lets you send instant texts to designated people and emergency services while activating your GPS locator to show your location.
  • Noonlight.com: A comprehensive service that allows you to alert a service anytime you feel in danger, as well as plug into family and friends and record details and location of a dangerous encounter.

Walking safety tips

There are certain common-sense practices that everyone understands and typically follows without thinking. However, other safety rules are not so obvious, and children may not know all of these rules unless you teach them.

It is everyone’s responsibility to abide by the following walking tips to help promote safety for ourselves and others:

  • When walking on a road or highway, always walk facing the oncoming traffic so you can react quickly to a distracted or careless driver.
  • Where possible, avoid walking on roadways or in bike lanes. Use sidewalks and off-road, multi-use paths where available to avoid danger.
  • Never assume that others see you. Take extra precautions, move deliberately, and always be alert when crossing the street or using crosswalks.
  • Stand up straight and keep your head up, looking for hazards 10–15 feet in front of you.
  • Beware of tripping hazards ahead. It is harder to see uneven sidewalks, roots, rocks, potholes and other obstacles when walking in the dark.
  • Avoid distractions that can cause you to lose focus. Take a break from social media, and don’t look at your phone. Even listening to music should be avoided at night. Focus solely on your surroundings and be ready to react when necessary.
  • Dress appropriately and wear reflective clothing such as hi-visibility jackets, pants and shoes.
  • Bring along a flashlight to scan the area ahead, but be careful to avoid shining the light into oncoming drivers.
  • Choose your routes carefully, avoiding high crime areas and deserted routes.

Night-time driver safety

Night-time safety is a two-way street. Both pedestrians and drivers need to play their parts to ensure our streets are as safe as they can be at night for everyone. Drivers can take several steps to improve their ability to see and avoid pedestrians at night, which include:

  • Check all of your lights regularly. In addition to replacing burnt-out bulbs, keep your lights clean to maximize your ability to see pedestrians at night.
  • Don’t look directly into bright lights, which can temporarily blind you and prevent you from seeing other potential obstacles nearby.
  • Increase distance from other vehicles or cyclists and reduce your speed to ensure you always have sufficient time to stop if someone suddenly steps in front of you.
  • Avoid distractions while driving, including texting, loud radios or interactions with someone else in the car. Keeping your focus is particularly important at night when you often have to react more quickly to objects you may not see as easily in the dark.
  • Constantly be on the lookout for pedestrians. This is always important at night, particularly while driving in residential neighborhoods and especially on holidays like Halloween.
  • Don’t drink and drive. Alcohol impairment by either the driver or the pedestrian has been reported in nearly half of traffic accidents resulting in fatalities.
  • Always make sure your auto insurance is up to date. Nationwide, almost half (49%) of passenger vehicle fatalities occur at night.

Halloween safety

For obvious reasons, Halloween is the most dangerous night of the year for pedestrians, particularly children. A Washington Post analysis found that 54 pedestrians younger than 18 were struck and killed by an automobile on Halloween from 2004 through 2018, compared with 16 on a typical day. From selecting a costume to taking precautions while walking with your children, many steps can be taken to mitigate these risks.

Costumes

Take the time to ensure your children are safely costumed for trick or treating by following these tips:

  • The brighter the better. Choose bright colors and flame-retardant materials. If your child will be outdoors after dark, attach reflective tape to his or her costume and treat bag.
  • Size it right. If it’s cold outside, be sure your child’s costume fits loosely enough for warm clothing to be worn underneath — but not long enough to cause tripping. Avoid oversized shoes and high heels that might cause stumbles.
  • Skip the masks. It is critical that your children can see clearly at all times. A mask can obstruct your child’s vision, especially if it slips out of place. Use nontoxic makeup instead.
  • Limit accessories. Pointed props — such as wands, swords and knives — might pose safety hazards.

Other Tips

Trick or treating certainly increases the risk of pedestrian injury via driving accidents, but other dangers exist for children that can be minimized with certain precautions, including:

  • Have a responsible adult accompany young children on neighborhood walks.
  • If older children are going out alone on Halloween, plan and review a route that you find acceptable.
  • Set a specific time for children to return home.
  • Make sure your children know never to enter a stranger’s car or home.
  • Consider devices that can track your children’s location.

Conclusion

No one wants to eliminate the enjoyment and happiness that the fall and holiday season brings to all of us. But it is easy to see how careless planning and failure to take common-sense precautions could lead to a tragedy that would overshadow any holiday joy. Following the simple steps outlined here can help you and your family genuinely enjoy a safe and fun-filled season.

Holidays are a fun time of year but also the most dangerous so it is important to be vigilant while having fun. After a record high few years of pedestrian accidents, this should be a priority for everyone.

Written by
Rick Hoel
Insurance Contributor
Rick Hoel is an international business attorney and legal and insurance writer for Bankrate.com, Reviews.com and Accessibility.com. Over the last several years, he has covered topics dealing with personal and commercial insurance and technology and the law. Rick is General Counsel and Director of Risk Management and sits on the Board of Power Stow Americas Inc., a subsidiary of Power Stow A/S in Denmark, the world leader in the supply of tracked conveyor systems to the airline industry.
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