Winter Pedestrian Safety

BINGHAMTON, NY - Walking outside in the winter may be refreshing. However, snowy sidewalks and icy streets can make walking a challenge and a hazard if you don't take basic precautions, warns Joe Nirchi, chairperson of the Broome County Traffic Safety Board.

During and after a snowstorm, residents should keep their sidewalks clear of snow to keep them from turning to ice. If sidewalks become dangerous, or if there are no sidewalks, pedestrians may need to walk in the street. However, Mr. Nirchi said walking in the street might present its own hazards. Road surfaces may make it impossible for motorists to stop at traffic signals or to slow down for pedestrians. Snow-covered signs and landmarks may also distract drivers. When this happens, pedestrians are at risk of getting hit by a car or becoming injured from a fall.

Every day in New York State, 11 pedestrians are hospitalized for serious injuries and one pedestrian is killed in a traffic-related incident, said Mr. Lucas Davis, Traffic Safety Coordinator for the Broome County Health Department. Almost one-third of these injuries result in traumatic brain injury, requiring costly medical bills and lifelong rehabilitation.

"Older adults should be especially careful while walking outside in the winter," he said. "An older person's risk for falls increases if he or she has dementia, impaired vision or impaired hearing." Senior citizens are over represented in pedestrian fatalities and injuries, according to recent safety data. Seniors often get hit within a step or two from the curb or stepping out from behind a parked car, or by being caught out in traffic. Seniors are also more likely to die or suffer severe injuries than younger pedestrians when they get struck.

Limited flexibility and coordination, as well as adverse reactions to some medication, can also make falls more likely. Falls are a leading cause of injury deaths. While motorists are at fault in many senior pedestrian crashes, safety studies show senior pedestrians sometimes contribute to the accident by:

  • not often picking the safest places to cross,
  • not paying attention to traffic,
  • not being aware of the timing of traffic signals and walk/no walk lights, and
  • underestimating the time needed to cross safely.

To protect yourself from injuries this winter, practice these safe winter walking tips at all times:

  • Wear shoes or boots with non-slip soles. Also, wear reflective or bright-colored clothing, such as a hat or scarf, so motorists are better able to see you.
  • Follow all traffic signs and signals.
  • If you have to walk in the street, walk facing traffic and as close to the curb as possible.
  • Before you step off the curb, make sure any oncoming vehicles have come to a complete stop.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. A covered patch of ice or a pothole filled with snow may cause an unexpected slip or fall.
  • Bend your knees a little and take slower steps to greatly reduce your chances of falling. Wear gloves to avoid putting your hands in your pockets. Avoid carrying heavy packages, which may affect your balance and block your view.
  • If you are pushing a child in a stroller in the road, put the stroller in front of you and as close to the curb as possible. Dress children in reflective or bright-colored clothes.
  • Hats or scarves that cover your ears can also distort or eliminate the muffled sounds of approaching vehicles. Keep warm, but make sure that you can hear what's going on around you.

The Broome County Traffic Safety Board is encouraging all winter walkers and pedestrians to use precaution when traveling by foot. Always make sure you have a clear view of all vehicles, and make yourself visible to the drivers. Allow yourself extra time and stay as clear of the roadway as possible.

For more information about pedestrian safety, call Lucas Davis, Broome County Traffic Safety Coordinator, at 607.778.2807.