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Risks for blind pedestrians on rise

Date

Adam Carey

Irene Sumbera in Kensington where she was hit by a car.

Irene Sumbera in Kensington where she was hit by a car. Photo: Jason South

AS MANY as one in 12 Victorians who are blind or vision-impaired say they have been hit by a vehicle or bicycle while walking in the past five years, a survey has found.

One in five reported having narrowly missed being hit, in a major study that sheds new light on the dangers blind and low-vision people face while getting around on foot.

The study, by Vision Australia and Monash University accident research centre, is the largest of its type conducted in Australia, having surveyed 607 blind and vision-impaired people about their experiences as pedestrians.

As well as the physical impacts, it also reveals the long-term psychological consequences for people involved in collisions and near misses, many of whom reported lost confidence and changed behaviour while walking and crossing roads.

Vision Australia spokeswoman Maryanne Diamond, who is blind, said the study had implications for an ageing society such as Australia's, where people would want to maintain a high level of independence.

''I imagine anyone who gets hit by a car has their confidence shattered, but as a blind person you have no option but to be a pedestrian,'' said Ms Diamond. ''Once your confidence gets shattered in one area it doesn't take much to shatter it in other things that you do.''

Just under a third of those who had been hit or in a near miss said the incident had involved a vehicle, while 25 per cent reported tangling with a cyclist.

Despite these results, respondents expressed significantly less confidence about sharing walking spaces with cyclists than they did crossing roads that were well signalised.

Study leader Dr Jennie Oxley, of the accident research centre, said this was because of difficulties in hearing cyclists. She said many of those surveyed also expressed concerns about the prospect of a future with more electric vehicles on the road, for the same reason.

''There's going to be more electric vehicles around and if pedestrians are relying on their sense of hearing it's going to put them at increased risk,'' Dr Oxley said.

Ms Diamond said the survey results were a reminder to drivers and cyclists to be mindful of who has right of way, because blind and low-vision pedestrians depended on others to do the right thing.

Survey participant Irene Sumbera was hit two years ago by a car that did not stop for her. The collision happened while she and her guide dog Jasper were crossing a busy intersection in Kensington, having waited for an audible signal to tell them it was OK to walk. She suffered a shattered tibia and lasting psychological injuries. ''As a group, I think we are exposed to greater risks,'' Ms Sumbera said.

28 comments

  • thanks mainly to engineering advances, the road toll is at its lowest ever. but this masks a deterioration in driving attitudes - of expecting to be able to drive from A to B with minimal impedances. vulnerable road users often cop the brunt of that, being seen by many drivers as little more than obstacles in their way. drivers have learned to dehumanise their interaction with others on the road. this is an endemic problem that extends further than just blind pedestrians. our govts are too busy patting themselves on the back over aggregate improvements in the road toll to even begin to acknowledge this problem.

    Commenter
    husband of the year
    Location
    melbourne
    Date and time
    December 31, 2012, 8:39AM
    • As technological advances start seeing the move from petrol to hybrid & fully electric engines, cars have been a lot quieter than those made 20-30 years ago (except to some dinosaur breed drivers who fit biscuit can exhaust on their 'bomb' ride).

      However technological advance should also see safety aids such as pedestrian collission warning/prevention system that was available only on expensive european models in the past (ie Volvo XC70/XC90) start to see its way to small and medium cars.

      But government should also be involved in providing better pedestrian/bicycle paths and crossings - as changes are inavoidable - there will be more and more people and even though fatalities/injuries rate may decreased per capita, the rate of population growth could potentially make the actual number looks higher on paper. In any case, any injuries or fatalities are unwanted and it's to everyone's best interest to reduce if not possible to eliminate

      Commenter
      Ryan
      Date and time
      December 31, 2012, 9:15AM
      • This information odes not surprise me. Far too many people, both drivers and cyclists, assume that pedestrians can see them coming and take evasive action. Therefore, blind people get hit.

        What is needed is, first of all, a community awareness campaign about blind and other vulnerable pedestrians, to encourage drivers and cyclists to take them into consideration instead of just assuming the pedestrian will get out of their way. Secondly, we need to have more dedicated cycle paths and fewer shared paths for both cyclists and pedestrians.

        Finally, electric cars must have an audible and identifiable sound made compulsory.

        Commenter
        Greg Platt
        Location
        Brunswick
        Date and time
        December 31, 2012, 9:23AM
        • Thank you for an excellent article. My sympathy is certainly with the blind, and I'm pleased that the article also brings to our attention the problems that are faced by older people.

          I'm not blind but I have arthritis and I'm slow. I don't drive so I'm almost always a pedestrian. I'm very careful to observe road rules, especially when crossing streets, and I try to be considerate of others. Most of all I remember -- if anything happens, I can't sprint out of the way.

          My major fear, though, is not cars -- it's bicycles. Although there are bicycle lanes in the streets near my home, often cyclists choose to ride on the sidewalks. I can understand that it probably feels safer than being out amidst the cars.

          But it's not safer for me or other elderly pedestrians! They come up behind me so quickly and I can't dodge out of their way. I've had a couple of narrow misses now, and it's scary. If I fall or I'm knocked over, I can really be hurt.

          Please, let us all show more consideration for others. It makes the world a far easier place to live.

          Commenter
          Pensioner
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          December 31, 2012, 9:27AM
          • Is there any reason we need to be told that Ms Diamond is blind not once but twice?

            Commenter
            Banana
            Location
            Melbourne
            Date and time
            December 31, 2012, 9:41AM
            • Yes...its because sometimes stupid people only learn with repetition.

              A blind person with a guide dog is hardly an inconspicuous Ninja with smoke bombs. They do not appear from 'nowhere'.

              Whether or not its two or four wheeled vehicles, looking to technological solutions in motorvehicles sounds awfully like an excuse for appalling driver/rider behaviour.

              The key ingredient which 'pensioner' alluded to by saying 'consideration for others' is empathy. Those of us that care, don't need to be educated or told because we already get it. Those of us who have been VRU's and have suffered smashed bones can doubly empathise.

              Those of us that don't care need to be caught and punished. No 1 is Detection. No 2 is enforcement.

              With greater helmet/dash cams perhaps 2013 will broaden the net of detection allowing preventative interventions from authorities? Historically authorities have only ever targeted an individuals behaviour 'at the time' or 'after the fact'.

              How many mums were caught in 2012 driving kids to school whilst incoherently drunk? If people are prepared to do that to their own kids and also put our kids at incredible risk then what does that say about our society?

              I'd be concerned if I was was Jenny Oxley. The greatest concern is the assumption that the audible and tactile signal visually impaired people rely upon to let them know its safe to cross an intersection is flawed. 1 person every 20s runs a red light in Melbourne...MURAC research (1995?)

              Commenter
              MattG
              Date and time
              December 31, 2012, 12:12PM
          • I'm not blind, old, arthritic, slow, fat or totally stupid, yet i've been run over by fast moving cyclists three times this year in inner city Melbourne. I find that cyclists refuse to use thier bell to warn me they are approaching and often travel at pretty high speeds.When they approach from behind i don't hear them and each time i was hit i was thoroughly surprised to find myself on the ground. None of the cyclists stopped to check my welfare or apologise - i suspect they couldn't have cared less. I've now changed my opinion towards cyclists and would love to see them all suffer in their lycra!!!

            Commenter
            JPE
            Location
            North Melb
            Date and time
            December 31, 2012, 12:14PM
            • Sorry JPE but I need to take a stand for cyclists! In the past year I've been hit by 3 cars whilst cycling (all were at fault, one didn't stop) and had countless pedestrians step out in front of me or cross against a green light when I had right of way of which I've nearly collected them. And I've also seen a lot of cyclist do stupid things, running red lights etc. In a nutshell, all people - whether on a bike, behind the wheel of a car or walking, are capable of doing something stupid. As a side note, I often find when I ring my bell at people they get flustered or startled and often step straight into my path instead of keeping left - now I just call out "passing", slow down and hope for the best. To suspect that a cyclist "couldn't care less" is ridiculous - you will get nice people and awful people in all situations I'm afraid, that is life. One of the drivers who hit me still calls a year later to see how my shoulder is healing. I drive a car, ride and bike and walk...and we are all at risk in every one of these situations. Perhaps we all need to be more considerate of others, and, most importantly, especially considerate to the vulnerable people in our society such as the blind.

              Commenter
              Jay12
              Location
              Bike Path
              Date and time
              December 31, 2012, 12:46PM
            • I too, am sorry to hear that JPE.

              I have two bells on my bike, an old fashioned ringa ringa type and a new single ding. I use them both when necessary, but even with all that noise, some people do not, or will not, hear me coming. (and Jay12, try ringing from further back - it gives people a little time to process what that sound means).

              In any case I ride appropriate to the situation, as do most cyclists on the paths, especially where there are small children around.

              Statistically a pedestrian is much more likely to be injured or killed by a motor vehicle. I don't know where you were walking, but many shared pedestrian/bike paths are very poorly designed, as are many of the onroad bike lanes.

              It boils down to (a) funding. Bikes make up about 1% of people movement in Melbourne, but receive less than .01% of funding.As Greg Platt has posted above, better infrastructure will lower crash levels (as has been found on the roads).

              And (b) attitude. Too many people, however they are travelling see themselves as the only people trying to get somewhere, and movement as a kind of competition. We need a change of attitude from individualism to co-operation, where everybody helps each other to get where they are going safely. Ironically, this often ends up with faster movement for all.

              Commenter
              Riddley Walker
              Location
              Inland
              Date and time
              December 31, 2012, 1:49PM
          • When did the law change to permit riding bicycles on the footpath?

            All bicycle riders over the age of 16 ought to have a bicycle riders license, or alternately lose points off their vehicle license

            Commenter
            billie
            Date and time
            December 31, 2012, 12:39PM

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