Thu, Sep 07, 2017 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Walking in danger’s path

A Child Welfare League Foundation survey released last weekend showed that more than 58 percent of elementary and junior high-school students feel unsafe when walking to and from school.

One quarter of respondents said they had nearly been struck by a vehicle on their way to school, while 13.4 percent said they had been injured.

Few people would suggest that the standards to obtain a driver’s license or other road regulations in this nation are without issue. It is almost farcically easy to get a scooter license, and tests are predominantly carried out in controlled environments, rather than on the roads.

However, the more fundamental problem is not just the dangers to pedestrians, but what puts them in the path of vehicular traffic in the first place.

Driving skill, an ability to read the road and knowledge of and compliance with traffic signs and rules notwithstanding, the most fundamental consideration is to keep pedestrians off the roads. Yet, in so many parts of Taiwan, people are obliged to walk on the roads next to vehicular traffic because there are no sidewalks. This includes in residential areas and popular thoroughfares that are lined with stores and restaurants. Even in residential areas, the lack of sidewalks is extremely problematic.

The first solution is to create more sidewalks in residential areas, as well as in cities’ busier shopping and dining districts. This would mean narrower roads and reduced speed limits, and perhaps even dreaded speed bumps — but why not if it prevents accidents?

Even when there is a sidewalk, obstructions often mean pedestrians have no option but to walk on the road. These obstructions come in the form of lazily parked cars or scooters, rubble from construction work and deliveries or product displays outside stores.

Another solution would be to restrict obstructions — and enforce such restrictions — from being placed along sidewalks, giving pedestrians a clear path that must be maintained at all times.

The problem of scooters and motorcycles parked on the sidewalk is not restricted to lazy or illegal parking. The sidewalks are often lined with legal parking spaces for light vehicles, accessible only from the sidewalk itself. This necessitates driving on the sidewalk, not only putting pedestrians at risk but also potentially forcing them into the path of oncoming traffic.

Of course, this would require the provision of alternate parking, in designated parking spaces either on the street level or underground, especially for light vehicles.

Electric scooters also pose a safety risk. As an alternative to conventional scooters, they cut down air and noise pollution, and with government’s subsidies driving sales, they are becoming increasingly popular.

However, they are almost silent at low speeds and difficult to detect if they approach from behind.

While the government should encourage the new technology, they need to be regulated and restricted to designated paths on wider sidewalks or relegated entirely to roads.

Public education is also required to improve safety. Safety can be enhanced not only with improved driver instruction and higher testing standards, but also with the promotion of driver awareness and road-reading skills, of pedestrian awareness and of basic road safety concepts, such as looking before crossing the street even in quiet residential areas.

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