FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 18, 2019) - As I've gotten older - and the voice of my doctor insisting I eat less and move more echoes through my brain in that accusatory, yet authoritarian, tone of hers - I often find myself wandering my neighborhood in Asics cross-trainers, a sweaty T-shirt and a sun-bleached Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap. Since I am lucky enough to live in an area with year-round nice weather, I have eschewed the treadmill and opted to trek the sidewalks near my home. Now that I am spending more time as a pedestrian, I've discovered (surprise!) many drivers do not respect foot travelers.
In the midst of one of my weekend exercise sessions, I was facing traffic and walking toward an intersection. Our neighborhood intersections are generally nicely equipped with unobstructed stop signs; wide, bright, highly visible stop lines; and white-painted crosswalks. This intersection is no exception.
I looked to my left to see a car coming down the hill with its right turn signal blinking. Through the windshield I noticed two young girls in the back seat, what I assumed was their mother staring stoically forward in the passenger seat and a grim-faced father driving. I presumed the foursome was running late for some event and the adults in the vehicle were none too pleased at their tardiness.
Rather than looking ahead like his spouse, the driver was intently concentrating to the left. As the car slowed, I caught the eye of the mom and we smiled at each other. Dad was still staring up the cross street, seemingly unconcerned with the world outside the passenger side door. I put my foot on the first white stripe of the crosswalk and stopped. The car continued to roll through the stop line, into the crosswalk and then came to a stop, missing my foot by just a few inches.
At this point my emotions took over. I know I was wrong to do it, but I slammed my open hand on the car's hood right in front of the mom, which got the driver's attention. As he snapped his head around to see what the noise was, I yelled and pointed, "Hey! The stop sign is back there!" We had a short, heated discussion that included a couple of words he will need to explain to his daughters at some point in the near future. But I'm fairly certain I got my point across to him.
My point is that a vehicle versus a pedestrian is not a fair fight. The Governors Highway Safety Association estimates there were 5,984 pedestrian fatalities in 2017, essentially unchanged from the 5,987 killed in 2016. Pedestrian deaths that occurred on an actual crosswalk accounted for about 9 percent of all fatalities.
After such an encounter, the driver will almost inevitably say something like, "I never saw him." The human brain can only process so much. Combine high speeds, traffic signs, billboards, loud music, children in the back seat, cellphones and any other distraction and something's got to give. No wonder they never saw him.
The reality is the human brain is a supercomputer and our eyes are merely the monitor for that computer. The raw images entering the eyeball are actually heavily processed and edited versions of the world. Without the brain, the world would look upside down. There is a blind spot where the optic nerve attaches to the back of the eyeball, and the view of the periphery would be out of focus and somewhat colorless. The brain has a remarkable ability to fill in those blanks. However, it can also unconsciously remove detail, which could come in the form of a pedestrian.
As much as drivers do not plan on hitting a pedestrian, it still happens. Pedestrians should be aware of drivers' shortcomings and their remarkable, yet flawed, brains. While it is true using a crosswalk is the safest option by far to make it across the street, it is only paint. Stay safe out there.
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