Hylton I Lightman, MD DCH (SA) FAAP

About this time last year, our community lost Dr. Richard Friedman A”H after he was struck and killed accidentally by a car early evening on Saturday night.  The anniversary of this tragic event brings into 20/20 focus the importance of walking and driving safety. It is especially significant at this time of year when darkness comes early.

Whether your schedule brings you outdoors before dawn, at dusk, after dusk or during daylight hours, here are some safety guidelines.

First, use sidewalks and off-walk paths.  Preferably, they should be well lit, well-traveled areas.

If there is no sidewalk and you must walk on the side of the road, choose the side where you are facing oncoming traffic.  In North America, this is the left side of the road. This gives you the best chance to see traffic approaching closest to you and take evasive action when needed.  Likewise, the driver will have a better chance of seeing you. This may be confusing because the opposite rule is true for cyclists, who cycle in the same direction as the traffic flow.

Cross streets safely please.  Use extra caution. Drivers do not expect to see people walking at night.  And don’t assume that drivers slow down for people in crossing streets during the day even when the walker is in the designated crosswalk with the collapsible “state law” signs.  More on that later.

Mommy is right — Look both ways before crossing any street.  At controlled intersections, it is wise to cross only when you have the pedestrian crossing light.  Even then, drivers and bikers may have a green light to turn and won’t be expecting you to be in the crosswalk.  Make eye contact with any drivers who may be turning. Wave at the driver. Make sure he sees you. In an interaction between a vehicle and a walker, the walker can only lose.  It can be tempting to jaywalk. Please don’t. It is a safety hazard.

It’s possible to be blinded by the headlights of oncoming vehicles.  Try to choose paths without frequent changes in lighting levels. Also, don’t stare into the headlights.  Drop your eye level to just below the lights.

There is safety in numbers.  Try not to walk alone. Use the same route used by other walkers and runners.

Avoided walking distracted.  When it’s not Shabbos and your mobile phone is with you, the phone can be handy for the flashlight as well as the tracking mechanism.  But are you really using it for light or are you busy texting away? More on that later.

Further, the acuteness of your night vision is lessened when you’ve been staring at a lighted screen.  Since vehicles cannot see you well at night, you need to pay more attention to them.

Also, avoid using headphones when walking.  The shiur is life-altering; the music speaks to your soul.  The bottom unaltering line is that headphones reduce your awareness of your surroundings.  Pay attention please.

Make sure your hands are free, unless you are carrying a flashlight.  This way, you will be able to react if someone approaches you.

Wear reflective clothing and gear.  Your clothing should have reflective strips in the front, back and down the sides.  Alternatively, you can wear a bright vest with reflective patches that you can put on over the head.  Anything you can do to raise your visibility can only help, especially when it’s dawn, dusk or night. The vest can be worn walking home from shul on Friday night or after Shabbos.

Both walkers and drivers are guilty of being distracted.  The phone, this little piece of invasive electronics encased in plastic box that can be as powerful as the desktop computer is destroying people and lives.  I’ll leave it to the TAG people (Technology Awareness Group) to give statistics. My observations are anecdotal.

I am appalled by the lack of mindfulness that abounds.  The u-turns. It’s challenging to navigate Central Avenue in my neighborhood to begin with but u-turns bring danger to a new level.  No one is so busy that they do not have the extra 3-5 minutes to drive down to the next turn. Shop owners share stories about cars screeching down the Avenue.  We’ve witnessed it on our residential streets. What’s the hurry? Whether it takes 2 or 12 minutes longer to get somewhere, it is certainly not worth the potential damage that comes with speeding.

But the cell phone is above all else.  I’ve witnessed grown adults crossing streets in and not in the crosswalk while texting away on their phones.  Are they negotiating a business deal? Speaking to a teacher? Honestly, it’s irrelevant what’s engaging them.

There are parents and babysitters pushing carriages while watching their phones.  No comment.

Drivers don’t see the green light when it’s time to go because they’ve been texting.  That sets in motion the (understandable) reactions of impatience and tooting of car horns which then startle the perpetrator who set into motion in the first place the chain of reaction.  Everyone needs to stop their self-absorbed behavior and heed more caution. G-d forbid they should harm themselves. But the same behavior can needlessly harm others and the results will reverberate forever.

Dr. Friedman was a special man.  An outstanding physician. A loving husband, son, brother, father and grandfather.  He was well respected by all.

I urge communities to make campaigns for people to walk with reflective gear and/or vests.  That people drive more cautiously. That people disengage from distraction and focus on what matters.

To save one life is to save a world.

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