Pedestrian Safety in the City

Unless you have a car, chances are good that you walk a lot of the time. Whether it's at home, at school, or at some other location, you probably feel like you know what it takes to be safe. When visiting or living in a city such as New York City, though, walking through the streets is often a more complicated and intense experience. If you're unfamiliar with the area, its laws, and the habits of city pedestrians, the risk of injury and even death increases. Fortunately, understanding a few basics can help make being a pedestrian in high-traffic urban areas a safer experience for yourself, drivers, and others on the street.


Avoid Distracted and Impaired Walking

For a pedestrian in the city, a lot of things can serve as a distraction and prevent walkers from paying attention to where they're going and what's going on around them, increasing the risk of injury. Using a cellphone to send text messages, play games, or just talk is one of the most common causes of distraction for people walking on busy New York City streets. When distracted, you may stumble, wander into the street and into the path of cars, or collide with cyclists or other objects in your path. Listening to loud music is also distracting and can prevent you from hearing a shouted warning, a horn, or the sirens of an ambulance or police car when crossing the street. Limiting smartphone use while walking and lowering the volume on your headphones can help reduce distractions. Alcohol and drugs also pose a threat to people who are walking in busy cities, as they impair judgment and cause erratic and unpredictable behavior.



Sidewalks are meant for pedestrian traffic and are typically the safest place to be when walking around the city. If there are no sidewalks, keep your distance from traffic and face the traffic while walking. Understanding sidewalk etiquette is important, as NYC sidewalks are extremely crowded. Crowds and the rushed atmosphere may make it necessary to cut off another pedestrian to get where you're headed. While this is common and even acceptable, some people will also shove or walk into others who are in their way. This type of behavior is not acceptable and should be avoided. Blocking sidewalk traffic or curb access by walking slowly, taking up too much of the sidewalk with friends, or stopping to take selfies can also cause problems and is considered poor sidewalk etiquette.


Watch Out for Vehicles and Obey Traffic Laws

Cars pose a threat to pedestrians whether you're in NYC or any other city. Drivers expect pedestrians to obey street signs and signals and stay out of vehicular traffic unless crossing the street. Keep to predictable patterns to avoid startling or catching drivers off-guard, as this can lead to car crashes and potentially fatal injuries. Pedestrians must also be visible to drivers. One way to do that is to avoid wearing dark colors when walking at night and to wear clothing made of reflective material in areas with little light. Prior to crossing a street or driveway, look carefully in both directions. Before stepping in front of a car at a crosswalk, always make sure that the driver can see you by making eye contact.


Children and Walking Safely to School

Walking to school is increasingly common for teens and younger children due to a shortage of school bus drivers in some areas and as a way to increase physical activity. The same rules that apply when walking in the city also apply when you find yourself walking to school. For younger children, more guidance and supervision is often needed to ensure that they understand that walking can be dangerous if they aren't careful. Depending on their age and maturity, children are often walked by their parents or teenage siblings. Children can be unpredictable and may dart out into the street unexpectedly or play in areas of high traffic. Many also have a short attention span and are easily distracted. If you're walking a child to school, pick the safest route to take, which is one that has sidewalks and the fewest streets to cross. Always hold the child's hand as you walk and teach them what they need to do and not do when walking to school.