Crosswalk Safety: Myth vs. Reality for Young Adolescents

How safe is your middle school student when crossing a busy street as a pedestrian, cyclist or skateboarder? Recent incidents on Palo Alto streets suggest that we parents need to teach more than the basic rules of STOP, LOOK and LISTEN.

With some coaching, virtually all 11-14 year olds can make safe choices about crossing, even on the busiest arterial roads. Please review key myths and realities about crosswalk safety with your student, and check their “street smarts” in actual situations. And set a good example — you are still an important role model for your child.

MYTH: Pedestrians always have the right of way.

REALITY: No, not always. Legally, pedestrians have the right-of-way within a crosswalk; but the law also states that “no pedestrian shall unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.”

Pedestrians are also expected to exercise “due care” for their own safety, and are NOT permitted to suddenly obstruct the path of a moving vehicle that is close enough to be a hazard.

Remember, if youíre on a bike, you are a vehicle subject to the rules of the road, not a pedestrian. Special laws apply to skateboards, in addition to the pedestrian laws.

MYTH: You are safe in a crosswalk.

REALITY: Painted lines do not protect you from harm, even if you have the legal right of way. This is particularly important at crosswalks where there is no traffic signal or stop sign.

The bigger the road, the more your safety depends on your own judgment about when it is actually safe to cross.

MYTH: A green light or walk signal means “Go”.

REALITY: A green light or walk signal indicates that itís your turn to cross, but first make sure that the intersection is clear ñ and watch for red light runners! Also make sure that any right-turning cars will yield to you.

Cyclists should dismount and walk across if they wish to use a crosswalk at a busy intersection. By law, skateboarders may not use their boards on Palo Alto arterials, including Oregon Expressway and Middlefield Road (Municipal Code 10.64.241)

MYTH: If you see the driver, the driver sees you.

REALITY: The driver may not see you in time to stop, particularly if youíre coming from the RIGHT and he/she is looking LEFT for oncoming cars. This is particularly true for cyclists and skaters, who are moving faster than pedestrians.

To be safe, make eye contact with any driver whose path will cross yours, and proceed only when certain the car will stop. On multi-lane roads, do not start across until vehicles in all lanes have stopped. If thereís a median, make separate decisions about crossing each direction of traffic.

Remember that when you are driving your student somewhere, you can still help him/her recognize safe and unsafe choices made by other pedestrians, cyclists or skaters. Or have them observe how more braking distance a car needs at 30 or 40 mph than at 20-25 mph. And, of course, always use extra caution around our schools!

— From the Jordan Journal (March 2000)