Screenwriters: Carolina Suarez and Maria Gloria Cano
Traffic accidents involving pedestrians occur every day on the streets and highways of Colombia. My grandfather Jaime, in his late 60s, was one of the many who lost their lives walking after being hit by a motorcyclist who entered the platform, leaving a deep sadness and void in the whole family. His story emulates what happens to the approximately 1,600 pedestrians who die every year as a result of a road accident, in situations that could have been avoided. It is actually called a loss as opposed to an accident because it refers to a foreseeable event.
These figures worry us because we are all pedestrians and without an “outer lining” we are the most vulnerable on the roads. This is very worrying in the case of our girls, boys, adolescents and the elderly, due to the characteristics of the stage of life they are in: traffic accidents are the first cause of death due to external factors in the elderly and the second cause in children and adolescents.
What factors determine that children, adolescents and elderly pedestrians cross the street at risk? How is existing infrastructure affected? Are there differences between population groups? These questions were asked by the National Road Safety Agency (Ansv) and answered in a qualitative study of the pedestrian mobility of children, adolescents and older people conducted between 2021-2022 by the Interim Econometric Union – SEI (ANSV Contract 139 of 2021 ).
We are pedestrians, sometimes due to lack of resources and others by choice given proximity, functionality or health. Mobility dynamics are not a risk factor in themselves, but are mediated by mobility intention, time, day, distance, transport options, climate, geography, infrastructure, age, gender, among other things. The pandemic was a conjunctural element that affected the ability to be a pedestrian to avoid congestion on public transport. Girls and boys usually travel with their carers on trips from school to home or to recreational facilities. Adolescents have more autonomy and make longer journeys. While adult pedestrians are motivated by work, health, leisure, religious practices, banking or commercial activities.
As stated above, mobility in itself is not a risk factor and should not pose a danger to people. Risk is created by internal factors related to reckless decisions or behavior, or by external factors determined by the infrastructure or the decisions of other road users.
Among the internal factors, the study identified, for example, that among adolescents there is a predominance of distraction, looking at the mobile phone or with headphones, playing games, due to challenges motivated by their peers. Adolescent males are more likely to put themselves in risky situations than females, especially if they are in a group.
For girls and boys, the risks are related to their inexperience in crossing, fear or distraction. Their behavior and attitudes are based on the example and teaching of their educators, who do not have the necessary knowledge to adequately convey the rules and see the functionality of the journey they are making, but do not connect it to the training they have for their children, girls and boys .
Older adults in some cases take mediated risks because they feel they need to be respected by road users and because of their declining physical and/or cognitive abilities. In a street context that has become complex, they feel alienated from the system, not recognized as pedestrians, nor co-responsible, this leads to greater difficulties in accepting and following the rules.
Among external factors, the behavior of other road users, such as drivers of vehicles, motorcycles and bicycles, is a factor that can pose a risk. They are perceived by pedestrians with fear. But among all motorcyclists pose the greatest danger to them due to their chaotic and unpredictable movements at high speed, often using spaces as platforms. According to pedestrians, drivers, motorcyclists and cyclists do not see, do not recognize them as an actor with rights of way, which is paradoxical if you consider that once they get off the vehicle, they are also pedestrians.
Another external factor determining pedestrian risk or protection is infrastructure. Narrow, uneven, worn-out sidewalks, with slippery materials, invaded by garbage, street vendors, cars and motorcycles, force pedestrians to walk on the road and share space with vehicles. Similarly, pedestrian crossings and signage are lacking, and the use of footbridges is limited by a sense of insecurity or deterioration.
This panorama reflects the great challenges that exist for managing road safety, but to the extent that they are clear and recognized there will be an opportunity to face them in favor of safer mobility where more incidents like this are avoided to grandfather Jaime. It is necessary, on the one hand, to be able to transform the knowledge, attitudes and behavior of all road users as co-responsible for a safe system through pedagogical interventions, and on the other hand, to create a safe infrastructure designed to protect pedestrians as the most vulnerable participants.