A woman living in my apartment building was struck by a car traversing an intersection I cross daily. Upon hearing the story, I decided to share the safety techniques I learned in a white cane travel course and several years of crossing highway intersections. Living in several cities of varying size offered a host of challenging travel obstacles. Throughout years of travel I have develop a list of techniques for crossing highway intersections safely. Below is a list of the tips and techniques.
1. Always, use the travel techniques taught in an orientation/mobility course. Practice daily the methods for effective use of traveling with a white cane.
2. While traveling pay attention to hints alerting you of an upcoming intersection, hints such as a sidewalk intersection, downward slant of sidewalk, raised edges of the sidewalk, light poles and sounds of cars stopping and going. Notice any items you can use as landmarks for future events at this intersection. Stop one full step from the street. Take a moment and listen to the traffic paying attention to the movement and directions of cars. Try to identify the intersection as a two or four ways stop, contains a traffic light or turning lanes. Note: If other pedestrians are available, engage them and feel free to use their assistance for crossing the intersection. Remember to be polite if you receive help from sighted individuals. I believe it is important for visually impaired/blind people to interact with the sighted community.
3. When you are comfortable with the layout of the intersection then prepare to cross. If the intersection has an audible crossing signal push, the button and wait for the announcement then cross. Always cross at the beginning of the verbal announcement. Before you begin crossing look in the direction of cars passing in front of you. As though you want to make eye contact with the driver. Using the looking technique may alert the driver you are ready to cross and gives you time to listen to the sound of the car’s engine. If the sound of the engine increases, the car is going to move meaning the driver is not going to wait for you to cross and you need to let them pass. The looking technique is effective regardless of your vision condition. Stepping into the street as the verbal signal starts without pausing is dangerous. I know the law is pedestrians have the right of way but a pedestrian never wins competing with an automobile. It’s better to be safe and let them go first than to be hit by a car.
4. If this intersection is one you will cross frequently, then locate landmarks identifying where you are located while crossing. The intersection I cross daily contains a raised area halfway across the street and acts as a midway point of reference. The raised area is to prevent cars from turning too soon when making a left hand turn. My intersection also has a groove or crack running straight across to the other side of the street. Using my cane tip moving back and forth over the crack guides me straight across the street. In addition, using on-coming traffic can help you cross in a straight line but requires time and practice for effective use.
5. When crossing, the streets listen for car engines coming from over your right shoulder. A car in a left hand turning lane will approach you from behind and over your right shoulder. If you listen for engine sounds, you can often hear a car coming towards you from behind and determine if you should let them turn in front of you or if the sound of the engine tells you they are idling and waiting for you to cross. Remember, cross in a timely manner but at a safe speed.
6. Avoid distractions. Sometimes while I am crossing a passenger in the waiting automobile will greet me by saying, “hello”. I ignore them until I am across the street then turn around and acknowledge them by returning the greeting or waving before continuing to travel. I also ignore honking car horns. You never really know why someone is honking his or her car horn so it is best to ignore the horn and concentrate on your task of crossing the street.
7. Avoid trying to complete other tasks when crossing streets and traveling. Talking on a cell phone, recording a message or listening to music are tasks that should be avoided while traveling.
8. Maintain your equipment. The tip of a cane helps a visually impaired/blind person understand what type of surface is ahead of them. Replace a damaged cane tip as soon as possible. Any equipment identified helpful to you when traveling should be used such as sunglasses of a specific color, specific type of hat or certain type of shoes.
Combining good traveling techniques and defensive travel skills provides a visually impaired/blind person the most safety from pedestrian accidents.