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Lorraine Explains: Early sunsets, wetter roads make this a dangerous time of year

The return to standard time from Daylight Saving Time (DST) makes November a bad month for all road users.

Earlier darkness, streets slicked with rain and frost, and plummeting temperatures. Harsh conditions push those exposed to the elements to move a little faster, maybe take some shortcuts. It all adds up to increased risk, especially for pedestrians and cyclists.

I do not believe anyone leaves their home, gets into their car and says, “Today is the day I’m gonna hit a pedestrian.” Nobody thinks they will be involved in a crash; nobody thinks crossing the street with the light should be dangerous; no cyclist sporting reflectors or lamps front and rear should be invisible to a cautious driver.

Let’s first discuss the elephant in the room when it comes to road users. Drivers blame pedestrians and cyclists, pedestrians blame drivers and cyclists, and some cyclists just seem to hate everybody. We cannot begin to get a handle on the increasing injuries and deaths of the most vulnerable road users – those not in a vehicle – until we all buy into the fact that nobody should be getting hit by cars.

Many regions have actually been experiencing a reprieve in 2020 from escalating pedestrian deaths – because COVID-19 shutdowns kept so many cars off the road. It won’t last, and it’s not an answer.

A couple of weeks ago, I put up what I thought was a fairly innocuous Tweet. Apparently it was not so innocuous: “If you walk, run or cycle after dark, PLEASE wear reflective clothing or better yet, velcro one of those lights to your upper arm; get one that pulses if you're on a bike. Make sure the people you love are visible. It's impossible to see you otherwise - please stay safe!”

While most would also like to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, apparently, for some, the answer is that I should just stop driving. OK. Got it.

This is the problem. We all have a role in keeping each other safe, and blanketing blame on the other person won’t get us where we need to be. Using our roadways is a team sport.

Drivers must slow down, even under the posted limit in poor conditions. You can’t take your eyes off the road, period. Drivers need to understand whenever steel meets flesh, steels wins. Vehicles without a lighting system on are deadly missiles, and drivers speeding or messing with their phones are the deadliest of all. Your turn signals? Not just for other drivers. Those on foot or bikes need to know your intentions, too.

Everybody must be predictable, which essentially means obeying traffic laws: don’t speed, don’t jaywalk (admittedly a big ask in places with hundreds of metres between crosswalks), obey traffic signals, pay attention to your surroundings. Pollyanna, I know.

For drivers, glare is a huge problem this time of year. Wet roads, bright streetlights, moving headlights — all can lessen a driver’s ability to see properly. If your vision is compromised, don’t drive. That may sound stupid, but if you find your eyesight can’t recover from light spikes and trails, you’re dangerous. It’s why many people, as they age, simply stop driving at night. It’s smart.

For most of us, our vision declines with age, but new tech is also producing those searing headlights that make you cuss out a driver for having on their high-beams even when they don’t. It’s a double-edged sword: those brighter lights let us see better when they’re on our own car, but are brutal when you look at them.

As you get older, your pupils let in less light, which makes everything seem darker,” Professor Lana Trick of the University of Guelph explains. “Older drivers also have a longer recovery time for their vision to return to normal after experiencing glare.”

When you encounter oncoming headlights, look to the right and down a little, not into them. When your optometrist offers you glare protection on your glasses, take it.

Don’t rely on your Emergency Braking System to cover for you, if your car is equipped with it. The tech is not good enough yet to be bulletproof, and at night many of them don’t work consistently, if at all. They need light for the cameras to work. Most of these systems only function at reduced rates of speed (under 48 km/h) but a AAA study concluded they aren’t yet dependable.

Another study testing night-vision cameras produced a similar conclusion. Are manufacturers headed in the right direction? Absolutely. But you are still in charge of your car at all times. In parking lots, drop your windows a little to help you hear what’s going on around you.

Find the dimmer setting for your infotainment system’s screen. That bright lighting is a distraction you don’t need. Make use of voice commands so you don’t have to take your eyes from the road.

Pedestrians and cyclists in dark clothing: you are invisible, especially at this time of year. There are so many affordable lights and reflectors available now and they should be considered part of the cost of your outfit or your gear, just like cars should have on winter tires. Put reflective tape on your backpack. When you buy your kid outerwear, consider if it will make them visible. Nobody should have their nose in their phone at crosswalks, and earbuds effectively compromise one of your senses at a time you need every advantage you can get.

Motorcycles have a pulsing front headlight because it draws more attention. Bicycles should use the same thing and don’t forget to light up your rear. If you use a mobility scooter or wheelchair, do the same.

For the next month, as we adjust to the shift in our clocks, the evening window from the onset of the dark until the go-home commute is over will see an increase in injuries and fatalities. It’s awful that we can predict such a thing, especially when they’re all preventable with some cooperation and some resolve.

We’re only as safe as we keep each other.

Copyright Postmedia News Inc., 2020

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