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Pedestrian Safety: 8 Simple Rules

It's important to remember and obey these basic tips when walking around Santa Monica.

Over the course of our series on pedestrian safety in Santa Monica, we've highlighted, among other topics, pedestrian fatalities, and a new traffic experiment the city is planning.

But what about the basic rules of pedestrian safety? Many of us, even those who are concerned about the subject, don't always abide by the rules. Or we grow accustomed to bending them.

Below are tips we compiled with help from City Traffic Engineer Sam Morrissey and the 's own list of pedestrian-safety tips.

"The big issue with pedestrian safety is perception," Morrissey said. "State law is two-sided: It says pedestrians have the right of way when they're in the crosswalk ... but that they shouldn't enter a crosswalk when an oncoming vehicle constitutes an immediate threat. That's very subjective."

Indeed, perception is an issue when it comes to pedestrian safety, as drivers and pedestrians usually don't communicate verbally. But by following these eight simple steps, you should feel more confident that you're being safe, lawful and courteous while walking the streets of Santa Monica:

1. Look both ways before crossing the street. Yes, it's something we're taught as kids, but that doesn't mean we all heed the instruction. Stop, look—and listen too—before crossing the street. Pedestrian safety starts with this simple but critical step.

2. Make eye contact with the driver. This is another simple but often-neglected instruction. If a vehicle is oncoming, don't assume the driver sees you. Drivers are often distracted, especially in an age of smart phones and iPods. Go the extra step and make sure they see you by making eye contact. Don't assume they will yield, though.

3. Don't enter a crosswalk when an oncoming vehicle constitutes an immediate threat. Even if you do make eye contact, that doesn't always mean it's safe to use the crosswalk. Make sure the vehicle is slowing down, or wait for the driver to wave. If there is any indication that the oncoming vehicle poses a threat, don't enter the sidewalk—even if you have the legal right to do so. "Once you do take that step, you're asserting yourself as a pedestrian," Morrissey said.

4. Cross at intersections. It's unsafe to cross mid-block. Also, don't cross from between two parked cars, as drivers might not be able to see you. Don't cross when you see a red hand, even if the stoplight is green.

5. "Be safe and be seen." This is the SMPD's favorite pedestrian-safety catchphrase. Make sure you're visible when using a crosswalk. For example, don't use a crosswalk if it's nighttime and you're wearing all black. "Be a defensive walker," the police department says. "Watch where you're going. Expect the unexpected. Don’t let cars surprise you ... even if the motorist is wrong. You could be dead right." Also, be extra-safe when you're with children.

6. Be predictable. Don't suddenly dart into a crosswalk. Don't meander around a crosswalk. Cross in a straight line. "Make sure motorists understand what you're trying to do," Morrissey said.

7. Obey the rules. Don't cross a street outside the boundaries of a crosswalk. A flashing red hand means pedestrians shouldn't enter the crosswalk. It's only designed to allow enough time for people to finish crossing if they started before the red hand began flashing.

8. Walk in a parking lot as you would on the street. "Use the same rules of caution in a parking lot," the SMPD instructs. "Parking lots can be just as dangerous as the street."

9. Only enter a crosswalk if you feel comfortable doing so. "If you don't feel like you can safely cross a street, don't try to there," Morrissey said. "Be confident knowing the rules of the road, but also know yourself."

More on pedestrian safety in Santa Monica: 

Marilyn Belknap August 20, 2011 at 07:56 PM
Stay off your darn cell phone while crossing the street and cross as quickly as you can. Don't parade across like you're in the Miss America pageant.
Dolores Sloan August 21, 2011 at 06:31 PM
I agree with Marilyn's comment. How many times I've watched pedestrians talking or texting on their cells, completely distracted, and unaware of potential dangers. One almost walked into my car, which was stopped and waiting for her to cross.
catherine August 22, 2011 at 12:30 AM
i see alot of people crossing without looking both ways,, they think that because its a crosswalk they can just walk and the cars will stop,, and also i have to, seen alot of them on there cell phones and not paying attention.
Gary Kavanagh August 22, 2011 at 06:56 PM
Crossing the street while talking on the cell phone is inadvisable due to distraction, however drivers talking on the cell phone is now explicitly illegal and with good reason, yet compliance with that law is pitiful. Yes people need to pay attention while walking, and all these tips are good advice, but all too often I think we take a blame the victim approach to traffic safety in America, and when ever possible absolve drivers of responsibility despite their piloting of powerful machines capable of so much harm. Kill somebody in a car, even if clearly at fault, as long as you say you didn't mean to, chances are some community service time and a little wrist slap without jail time, and off you go.
Gary Kavanagh August 22, 2011 at 07:00 PM
I often see people practically running across cross walks like they are deer being hunted by wolves. There is no obligation to cross as quickly as can be done. I generally walk a brisk pace, but I will not break my pace for the sake of whining impatient drivers and their little temper tantrums.
Eddie Greenberg August 23, 2011 at 03:35 AM
Thanks for publishing these safety rules. We can never hear them too much! Taking that little extra caution helps both drivers, pedestrians and the general public.
Patty Phillips October 26, 2011 at 06:22 PM
Just last night, I was coming from the Von's on Wilshire, and a driver cut in front of another pedestrian and I on our green light. Thank God, my dad taught me to be a defensive driver and pedestrian; I blocked the elderly lady as she stepped into the street. She looked at me like I was trying to attack her, but looked at me thankfully after she saw the fool. I have never seen anything like the driver's in Santa Monica! It seems they have no regard for another life, and where was he going??? to Krispy Creme or one of the other business in the Post office strip mall! It's a shame!!!

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