Dr. Traffic

Use caution when commuting in fall’s darkness

Being distracted can increase your chances of having a mishap, whether you’re driving or walking. TRAVIS LONG - tlong@newsobserver.com
Being distracted can increase your chances of having a mishap, whether you’re driving or walking. TRAVIS LONG - tlong@newsobserver.com tlong@newsobserver.com

There I was, short-cutting across a busy uptown street on my predawn walk to the office. I was wearing a dark coat and dark pants.

What was I thinking?

A co-worker had just mentioned that he’s had trouble seeing pedestrians who take those kinds of chances now that, for many of us, weekday commuting starts before daylight.

It’s also harder to see the people in dark clothes who walk their dogs in the middle of the street because they don’t want to meet with neglected tree branches that hang over the sidewalks. By walking in the street, you’re less likely to meet with one of those giant orb-weaving fall garden spiders beneath the trees.

Well, Daylight Savings Time ends Nov. 1. Setting the clock back one hour, from 2 to 1 a.m., means dawn also will arrive an hour earlier – for a while. Still, many of us will lose an hour of daylight during the evening commute.

Without daylight, driving and crossing the roads is more dangerous. The most vulnerable people on the roads are those who travel by foot, wheelchair, stroller or similar methods, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A pedestrian dies about every two hours, on average, from injuries that occurred in traffic, the agency reports. Pedestrian injuries occur about every 7 minutes on average.

Children face a greater risk of injury or death due to their small size, less refined abilities for judging distance and speed, and sometimes a weaker grasp of traffic rules.

So it’s time to review a few safety tips from the CDCP, the U.S. Department of Transportation and other agencies:

▪ Moving around in traffic safely requires your full attention and critical thinking. Multitasking and being in a hurry increase chances for a mishap.

▪ Remember the basics: Come to a full stop, where appropriate. Look to the left, right and left before moving into traffic.

▪ Cross the street at a crosswalk or intersection, whenever possible.

▪ At night, wear reflective clothing and carry a flashlight to make it even easier for drivers to see you.

▪ Walk on the sidewalk when you have one available. When you don’t, walk on the shoulder of the road and face traffic.

▪ Turn on your headlights one hour before dusk and keep them on one hour after dawn to make your vehicle more visible.

▪ Allow more distance between your car and the car in front of you after dark. Distances are more difficult to gauge at night.

Here’s one more thing to consider: Our eyes tend to detect lights and movement in the dark, rather than color and sharp detail, which we are more likely to see during the day, Allstate suggests on its blog. Depth perception is a little off, as a result. So slow down to get a better look at your surroundings.

Karen Sullivan: kmsulliv@charlotteobserver.com, @Sullivan_kms