Last Friday noted journalist Daphne Bramham wrote in the Vancouver Sun a very cogent article offering a  simple solution to pedestrians trying to navigate across streets in our low light and rainy winters-don’t wear black.  A lot of responders to her article bristled at the fact that Daphne was brave enough to state the obvious-vehicle operators often  cannot see pedestrians.
We live in a province where 280 people are killed annually and 79,000 people maimed in car crashes. This is a big number and serious enough that the Provincial Medical Officer wrote his yearly report on car crashes. What causes them? Dr. Perry Kendall surmised that speed (36%), distraction (29%) and impairment (20%) were largely responsible. Rates of crashes resulting in serious injuries have risen from 38 per cent in 2007 to 46 per cent in 2009.  Road design, distraction and speed are major contributors. I’d add visibility as well.
In October 2016, twice as many pedestrians died as were killed in the last six yearsThe Coroners Service of B.C. lists that from 2010 to  October 2016, 396 pedestrians were killed by vehicles in British Columbia. In B.C., Vancouver is the pedestrian death capital of Canada-it has more pedestrian deaths than any other city, and twice those of Toronto per capita. Sixteen per cent or 64 of those deaths were in Vancouver. Thirteen per cent or 50 deaths were in Surrey. Abbotsford, Richmond and Burnaby also had high percentages of pedestrians killed. Of those dying, 57 per cent were male. One third of those dying were 70 years or older. Forty per cent of pedestrian deaths happened at intersections in Metro Vancouver, with two-thirds crossing while the light was green.
But here is the statistic I found remarkable-61 per cent of all the pedestrians killed in British Columbia were over 50 years of age. That is a huge number and a worrying one. While we have focused our attention on road safety to school children, this suggests we also need to address the older part of the population who may not be as nimble or cognitively attune to the fact they are vulnerable. Of course there needs to be a sea change in driver behaviour and education, slower speeds, and municipalities that will redesign intersections to stop the carnage of their citizens. We as citizens also must get angry and insist that politicians pay attention to this  road violence needlessly yanking out lives.
In Finland every child going to school must wear three pieces of reflective items on their clothes and backpack. The safety reflector was developed in Finland in the 1960’s and it is the law that walkers wear reflective items in the dark. Wearing reflectors and reflective clothing is completely accepted as daily wear in Scandinavia which also has the lowest incidence of pedestrian accidents. A similar program in Great Britain reduced children’s pedestrian deaths by 51 per cent.
Studies show that reflectors increase the visibility of pedestrians from 25 meters to 140 meters, increasing the reaction time from 2 seconds to 10 seconds for a car being driven at 50 kilometers per hour. That’s eight seconds more for a driver to react, and a pedestrian to survive. We can’t pretend that this is not the wild west for road violence-it is, and in Metro Vancouver we are in the leaders of carnage in  Canada. Wearing reflective wear is quite simply the right thing to do, along with lobbying for slower speeds, more campaigns on driver behaviour, and redesigning street intersections as if walkers really mattered.


  1. If people’s fashion decisions and visibility were the issue, why are pedestrian injury/fatality statistics still climbing despite the fact outerwear is as colourful as ever, if not more so than ever, and vehicle lights are brighter than ever?
    I also wonder how Scandinavian rules about mandating reflective wear on children would have an impact on 50+ people in Canada?
    The bottom line is that careful, attentive drivers can see well enough not to hit people, regardless of their clothing. But when one is out on the road and see how many people are so inattentive that they are actually driving at night without their lights on (except for daytime running lights) it becomes clear where all our efforts should be focused — getting bad drivers off the road and into remedial training (at their expense).

        1. I forgot the blinkers, so popular right now.
          You raise some good points. Do we really need any streetlights?

    1. “where all our efforts should be focused — getting bad drivers off the road and into remedial training”
      Is there research about whether this is effective? I don’t think most people drive badly because they lack knowledge or skills: I think in most cases it is due to temperament, habit or choice. (Lack of skills due to lack of experience is a different matter, but little can be done about it: every driver must pass through a period of inexperience.) I suspect that education would have little impact.
      It’s all very well to call for individual responsibility (and reckless drivers should certainly be charged). But the war on drugs failed; I think this would too. A systemic problem like this calls for a systemic solution. I am inclined to think that narrower, twistier roads would reduce the incidence and severity of accidents.
      In general, cars are privileged on our streets (that this sounds tautological is only proof of the problem). We know that when people feel privileged, they are more prone to act selfishly. Shifting the balance of convenience more towards pedestrians (or at least towards balance) might go a long way towards moderating the behaviour of drivers.

      1. A fair question. My personal experience is that knowledge is a factor. Countless times I have had to disabuse chronic motorists of their misconceptions regarding pedestrian priority at unmarked crosswalks. We see people get multiple tickets but no requirement for skills/education regarding safe motoring as a condition of continued driving. I certainly agree improved road design can and should be undertaken. But in terms of things we can do quickly and without great expense, stricter licensing for habitual scofflaws is a place to start — esp. if demonstrated understanding of the consequences of reckless driving was a part of that process.
        (I don’t think drug use is a valid comparison)

      2. I agree with Geof. More protected intersections where peds have a separate phase would be a good start. Scramble crossings would be even better. How about our first Vancouver scramble intersection at Cambie/Broadway?

    2. Actually, brighter headlights are a real problem.
      They blind oncoming and turning motorists so they cannot see pedestrians (or cyclists) – especially at dark intersections where there is no streetlighting from other directions.
      Any intersection where a motorist faces cars that are facing uphill creates significant glare problems.
      This is especially true for cars making left hand turns, with cars facing uphill on the left.
      Case-in-point: Left turn from eastbound Broadway to northbound Cambie.
      The headlights facing uphill blind you – the only way you know a pedestrian is there is when they cross a headlight beam, but once they reach the median, they are washed out from sight.
      Better overhead lighting would help significantly.
      New LED streetlamps at Cypress & Cornwall have helped a lot at that intersection (southbound Cypress to eastbound Cornwall), which was previously very dark with lots of glare from oncoming headlights
      (previously, you’d be stopped to turn left, facing headlights of another car also stopped to turn left and oncoming cyclists would be washed out from view).

      1. I agree that there are def. issues with HID lights on motor vehicles. But a blinded motorist won’t see someone regardless of jacket colour right? In the absence of those factors contributing to the problems with these headlights, we still see people being run over, even back when there were only incandescent or halogen lights in use, and/or there are no other cars/oncoming headlights at play.
        The only place where immediate, substantive efforts to address pedestrian fatalities is possible is at the provincial level, where we have a majority government who could enact change with stiff penalties and accompanying education requirements very nearly at the stroke of a pen. But they are not.

      2. Yeah, I wasn’t referencing jacket colour – just headlights.
        Overhead street lamps would help with that.

    3. Some even drive at night without any lights at all And even during the day, most drivers will refuse to yield right of way to a pedestrian. More enforcement would help. At the recent road safety conference it was suggested that red light cameras could be easily modified to catch speeders as well as illegal left turn movements. Solicitor General would like to see this, but I am sure that there is not yet cabinet support for such an initiative. An ICBC rep pointed out that at the 240 locations where red light cameras were used, a total of 500,000 drivers were clocked going through the intersection at 40 km/h over the speed limit.

  2. Were we to adopt the Finnish law, “that walkers wear reflective items in the dark,” I propose two further measures. 1) Responsibility for collisions should increase for drivers who hit pedestrians so dressed. If this is not done, the opposite will happen (drivers will get off the hook for hitting pedestrians lacking reflectors), increasing the burden on victims. 2) The regulation should include people who are driving at night After all, every driver is also a pedestrian at each end of the trip. There is no justification for letting people off the hook because they happen to take part of a trip by car.
    That said, I am not in favour of imposing a legal requirement on pedestrians to wear reflective gear, simply to make up for the faults of reckless drivers. Unfortunately, it is likely that fashion is a major barrier to this kind of dress. We do not expect the same kind of freedoms while working. Construction workers, for example, are required to wear reflective vests and hard-hats. I therefore propose that other types of employees also be required to wear reflective gear. For example, all public employees – including our democratic representatives. Perhaps Worksafe could put pressure on other groups as well (businessmen? lawyers? realtors?). If men and women in suits set an example, it could go a long way to promoting the practice.

    1. The brightest clothing in the world isn’t going to save anyone from a distracted driver. Bright clothing won’t hurt, but it’s not a panacea.

      1. Wore a bright red cycling jersey riding to work in broad daylight, got struck by a driver executing a left turn across the bike lane I was riding in. Apparently she “just didn’t see me”.

  3. “Don’t wear black” sounds like good advice, but it’s nowhere near as important as “watch out for cars”. If all pedestrians did the latter than there would be a lot fewer deaths.
    I’m not suggesting that drivers aren’t to blame – only that in terms of what pedestrians can do to protect themselves it’s far better to behave as if the drivers simply can’t see you. Because no matter what the reason (blinded by headlights or looking at their phones) that’s what leads to getting hit.

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