Pedestrian and driver understanding of priority rules at different pedestrian crossing types
Crashes involving road-crossing pedestrians are common, and may result from misunderstanding of priority rules. At signalised intersections, confusion may result from pedestrians facing Walk , and drivers turning across them facing a green disc. Priority rules relating to various unsignalised crossings (e.g. zebra crossings, pedestrian refuges, paved crossings ) may be poorly understood, and may be understood differently by pedestrians and drivers. In a field survey conducted in Sydney and Goulburn, 297 people who had just been walking, and 273 people who had just been driving, were asked about priority rules surrounding various crossing situations (depicted on showcards). Two versions of the survey placed respondents in the role of either pedestrian or driver. In the Walk /green disc situation pedestrians were believed to have priority, but drivers often intended to take it. Confusion about priority/intentions was evident with pedestrians crossing on flashing Don t walk (drivers facing green), crossing toward a pedestrian refuge, and crossing at a paved road-section. Priority beliefs were uninfluenced by whether respondents had been walking or driving, or by survey version. Key findings may be of assistance to road safety authorities and practitioners, and clarification of problem situations is recommended.
Pedestrian casualties represent a substantial proportion of relatively severe road trauma. In 1999/2000, 121 pedestrians were killed and 3,396 were injured as a result of traffic crashes in NSW (IRMRC, 2004). Thus, pedestrians represented 20.7% of all road fatalities and 15.9% of all road injuries. This is unsurprising, since almost everyone will use the roads as a pedestrian at some time. Further, pedestrians are vulnerable road users, in that they are not protected (compared with, say, vehicle passengers), so injuries in the event of a crash are likely to be severe. Amongst, the elderly, pedestrian casualties represent an even higher proportion of road trauma (approximately 32%). Thus, pedestrian safety has deservedly become a focus of research and policy.
Crashes involving pedestrians are most likely to occur when the pedestrian is crossing the road. Of crashes involving pedestrians in NSW in 2000, at least 79.1% occurred while the pedestrian was crossing the road (NSW Roads and Traffic Authority, 2001a).
Some of these crashes may result from poor understanding of relevant right of way rules (for a statement of these rules see NSW Roads and Traffic Authority, 2001b). In Australia, drivers are required to give way to pedestrians when making a turn at an intersection, and whenever there is a danger of colliding with the pedestrian. At pedestrian crossings, drivers are required to slow down and stop when a pedestrian is on or entering the crossing. At signalised intersections, there are often signals that pedestrians must follow. Pedestrians may start to cross on a green Walk signal, must not start to cross but may finish crossing on a flashing red Don t walk signal, and may not start crossing on a red Don t walk signal.
Several situations may engender confusion regarding right of way. One situation which appears particularly problematic occurs at signalized intersections. Generally, a green traffic signal indicates to drivers that they have right of way when passing through the intersection in the direction indicated by the signal, and (often simultaneously) a green 'Walk' signal indicates to pedestrians that they have right of way when crossing. Conflict may arise when drivers of vehicles facing a green traffic signal are turning left or right into the street being crossed be a pedestrian facing a green Walk signal. Job (1998) found that a significant minority of drivers believed they had an automatic right of way when facing a green light, but turning left or right out of the street they were traveling on. About 3% of pedestrian deaths and 6% of pedestrian injuries occur in collisions with vehicles turning left and right at traffic-signal controlled intersections (RTA, 2001a).
Confusion regarding right of way may be exaggerated when drivers of vehicles facing a green traffic signal are turning left or right into the street being crossed by a pedestrian facing a red Don t Walk signal. Right of way at other crossing types (e.g. pedestrian refuges), and at paved sections of road, may also be poorly understood.
Thus, because the relevant road rules appear somewhat ambiguous, and traffic signals to both drivers and pedestrians (each potentially visible to both drivers and pedestrians) give somewhat conflicting messages, there is a potential for misunderstanding for all road users. Any confusion resulting from misunderstanding of right of way rules may be exacerbated by people endorsing different behaviours when driving versus walking.
Relevant research investigating road-users beliefs and attitudes relating to right of way rules is lacking. Thus, improved understanding of the attitudes and behaviour of pedestrians and drivers, in relation to crossing the road at various types of crossing, may provide the basis for developing countermeasures to substantially reduce pedestrian road trauma. The present study aimed to investigate beliefs and attitudes relating to right of way rules at signalised intersections and other forms of crossing.