Proceed with caution: Protecting yourself as a pedestrian

Walking and biking are great ways to get exercise and save on driving expenses like gas and vehicle maintenance. But as good as it can be for you, it can be dangerous as well. In 2009, roughly 4,000 pedestrians were killed -- that's 12 percent of all crash deaths in the United States, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). But don't let statistics scare you into setting aside your sneakers.
Paying for the damage

Getting struck as a pedestrian likely will involve a trip to the hospital. If the driver is at fault, his or her auto insurance liability coverage will pay for the costs of your injury. If the driver is uninsured (or if the accident is a hit-and-run), you would need to have uninsured motorist coverage on your own auto insurance policy to get the same protection. If you don't have that, you'll have to rely solely on your health insurance (or savings) to cover the costs.
Preparedness is priority

On average, 324 injured pedestrians are treated each day in emergency rooms, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To avoid becoming a statistic, follow these pedestrian safety tips from CDC:

  • Cross the street at a designated crosswalk.
  • Be careful at intersections. Drivers often fail to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians while turning onto another street.
  • Make yourself easier to see at night by carrying a flashlight or wearing reflective clothing.
  • Stay on the sidewalk. If you must walk in the street, walk facing oncoming traffic.

Nearly one in five traffic deaths among children age 14 and under result from pedestrian accidents, the CDC reports. Be sure your children know the rules of the road before allowing them to walk or ride a bike without your supervision. Nonprofit organization Safe Kids USA warns parents to never let children cross streets alone until they know their kids understand the following rules:

  • Walk across streets safely by crossing at a corner, following traffic signals and walking in crosswalks. Make eye contact with drivers before crossing. Don't assume that because you can see the driver, the driver can see you.
  • Look right and left before crossing, and keep looking both ways as you cross.
  • Stay on sidewalks or paths. If you have to walk in the street, stay as close to the edge as possible.
  • Watch out for cars that are turning or backing up.

Pedestrian-friendly vehicle technology

It may be understandable that drivers fail to notice pedestrians when making turns or backing up -- or if a pedestrian or cyclist suddenly darts into their paths. However, between 2005 and 2009, the majority of pedestrians injured or killed by cars were hit by drivers who were going straight with no visual obstructions, according to IIHS.
To protect pedestrians, some vehicle manufacturers are installing forward-collision warning systems in their vehicles. This technology was offered on 19 vehicle makes in 2011, according to IIHS.
One example is the Volvo S60 sedan's pedestrian detection system, which uses a combination of radar and cameras to detect impending collisions with other vehicles and pedestrians. When a collision is detected, the system first warns the driver and, if the driver does not respond, it automatically applies the brakes.
Some manufacturers like Audi, Mercedes and BMW are installing night-vision features in newer vehicles to ensure pedestrians can be seen at night, which is when two-thirds of fatalities occur, according to IIHS.

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