The science of protecting pedestrians

One of the most essential parts of designing roads and cities is taking care of pedestrians. Too often, we forget roads aren’t solely designed for the ease of access for vehicles, but for pedestrians, too – this also means safety for both groups.

The recognition of pedestrian needs matters a great deal and is seen in recent developments like traffic lights that use sounds. This was implemented in many places, like the city of Cape Town in 2009.

“The Audio Tactile Pedestrian Detector has a vibrating button which emits both audio and tactile signals indicating that the green man signal is lit and that it is therefore safe to cross the road.”

These can be found in increasingly greater numbers throughout the city, benefitting the visually and hearing-impaired; making safer for them to cross roads, while also preventing car accidents. (After all, though pedestrians are of course harms in car accidents, many drivers react by sudden swerving to avoid collisions, missing pedestrians but severely injuring themselves.)

Cities have implemented other aspects that can aid pedestrians: for example, bollards act as barriers that allow for the steady flow of pedestrians but keep cars out.

The CityFix points out that speed matters above all. Cities should be “designing to automatically control excessive speeding”. This “will have a far greater impact on road safety than any other measure. In fact, the most effective way to control speed is through road design.”

In Sweden, for example, three separate types of roads were designed to cater to three very specific speed limits. The designs themselves meant the drivers knew the speed without having to check signs; by instilling the correct speed in the drivers, it meant the drivers were driving at a speed of their own choosing. They weren’t being “forced” to do so.

Automakers themselves are finding ways to reduce the danger to pedestrians. Whether it’s removing hood ornaments or other protrusions, automakers are still making efforts to make it safer for pedestrians to not be unnecessarily harmed – or harmed further – by virtue of cars’ designs.

Edmunds notes some subtle changes that are probably overlooked by most of us.

“In recent years, vehicle design has focused on making subtle changes to the front end of the vehicle that aren’t obvious to consumers. One example is changing the way that the fenders, hood and windshield wipers are attached, so their performance strength is maintained but they can easily collapse when impacted by a pedestrian. Vehicles from Acura, Honda, Infiniti, Lexus, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo among others have these types of features.”

Protecting pedestrians just is protecting drivers. With everyone protected, we have better – and therefore more efficient – transportation.