I measure how successful a pedestrian you are by your ability to handle crossing roads in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam! Faced with multiple lanes filled with cars, bikes, motorbikes, buses and scooters, weaving in and out of lanes, I have seen people freeze with fear. I have escorted people across these roads while they quietly whimper with fear! In many cities, pedestrian crossings and traffic signals mean nothing when pedestrians are involved!
It is a serious issue for travellers, however. A UK study found that one fifth of UK road deaths involved pedestrians. 61 per cent of those pedestrians are tourists. 16pc died. And the Uk is a “safe” country. In many other countries with less stringent driving laws, there are usually even higher pedestrian deaths.
Unfamiliarity with crossing “conventions”, jet lag, distractions caused by sights or scenery, talking with friends and the effects of alcohol all have a role in causing injury and death for tourist pedestrians globally. Yet, ironically we only teach kids about road safety not adults.
I think we need to educate tourists in crossing roads. Every country (and in some cases even cities in the one country) has different conventions for crossing roads and we cannot assume that the conventions we have at home exist in the place we are visiting.
- Watch what the locals do. In Paris, for example, do not make eye contact with the driver or even acknowledge the car. Parisian drivers assume you will stop for them. If you pretend you have not seen them, they will stop!
- Watch for cars driving on the footpath. This is common in many African, Middle Eastern and Asian cities
- Cross at official crossings, overpasses, or subways. Jaywalking may be okay where you are from but you know the traffic patterns where you live. In addition, many tourists have been mortified to find they have crossed the roads”illegally” and been slapped with a fine. Tourists are not immune! In some countries, jaywalking is the only way top cross the road. Be warned taht sometimes, even in these circumstances, the tourist may still be fined!
- Always look right and left at every street. Teach your kids the same. In many Asian countries traffic may actually be coming at you on the “wrong side of the road”. I have seen cars squeezing up both directions in the one lane
- Be aware in some countries you will need to press a button to get the lights to change for a pedestrian
- In some countries you will get a timed visual (eg Singapore) of how long you have top cross and in others an audible (eg Brasilia) warning.
- Do not step onto the road until you are confident to do so. Some pedestrians step out and then look! This can be too late in some cities.