The 8 Best Ways to Improve Nighttime Pedestrian Safety

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Imagine this: it's just past dusk and the streets are quiet as you head home from a late meeting, driving on a familiar road. You hum along with the radio, thinking about the email you need to send when you get home.

Then, out of nowhere, your headlights illuminate two people crossing the street just a few yards in front of you — their eyes widen as they scramble to get out of the way.

Each second seems to pass slowly as you slam on your brakes and swerve hard to the right, flying over the curb and nearly plowing into a tree. You miss the pedestrians by mere inches.

Both you and the pedestrians are lucky, but each year several thousand are not — and there’s been little improvement. In 2022, drivers hit and killed more than 7,500 pedestrians, the most since 1981, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. A lack of standard for pedestrian safety, combined with car-centric roads results in more dangerous environments for pedestrians.

Solutions like streetlights, static signs and freshly painted crosswalks aren’t enough since motorists frequently don’t notice or obey them. Fortunately, there are more innovative, life-saving steps you can take to drastically improve nighttime pedestrian safety.

Pedestrians using a crosswalk at night.

1. Upgrade to More Reflective Signage

Drivers can’t obey a sign they can’t see. Many traffic signs are made with outdated sheeting that doesn’t maximize reflectivity. Replace those signs with ones using highly reflective, durable, micro-prismatic lens sheeting with pressure-sensitive adhesive. They’re visible from up to 600 feet away because they reflect more available light, drastically increasing sign visibility and compliance. This is helpful for any type of sign, but especially for those placed in areas with lots of foot traffic.

If you’re not sure if your signs meet reflectivity standards, consider investing in a quality retroflectometer. 

2. Replace Static Signs with Flashing LED Signs and Illuminated Legends

If static signs — despite their reflectiveness — aren’t enough, leverage the BlinkerSign® Pedestrian Crosswalk System, which features signs with flashing solar — or electric-powered LEDs embedded into the sides. With the LEDs, the signs are much more visible, particularly at night and during adverse weather conditions, such as fog and heavy rain.

Plus, these signs can be programmed to flash 24/7, at scheduled times or only when a pedestrian is approaching, thanks to new low-power thermal detector technology that can be easily mounted on the sign.

For further brightness and increased safety, consider also upgrading to illuminated legends found on the LegendViz™ BlinkerSign® . These highly visible, LED-illuminated legends are shown to increase sign legibility distance by as much as 100 percent compared to standard traffic signs, according to a closed-course driver trial and statistical analysis by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI).

A flashing LED stop sign at an intersection.

3. Leverage RRFB Technology

Another innovative way to increase nighttime pedestrian detection is with a Rectangular Rapid-Flashing Beacon (RRFB) Pedestrian Crosswalk System. According to a study by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), RRFBs can bring motorists’ yield rate up to 90 percent. Look for FHWA-approved beacons with dimmable LED warning lights with an alternating WW+S (wig-wag and simultaneous) flash pattern.

4. Enhance Pavement Markings

Nighttime visibility is essential to reducing pedestrian fatalities. At night, even with the freshest pavement paint and brightest streetlights, it can be tough for drivers to see the lines on the roads, including crosswalk markings.

To combat pavement marking visibility, enhance any intersection or crosswalk with TAPCO’s brand-new pavement marking enhancement: VizMark™. VizMark™ uses a light bar to illuminate and alert drivers to important roadway conditions, like stop and yield positions. Consider using VizMark™ alongside TAPCO’s SafeWalk Crosswalk Illuminator to maximize your crosswalk’s nighttime pedestrian safety.

5. Install a Crosswalk Illuminator

Where there’s a lack of light — add light, right? But you can’t just add any light. It’s important to add effective lighting that spans the entirety of the crosswalk. Streetlights beam light down on small sections of road, often not reaching the middle section, where pedestrians are furthest from safety.

For two-lane crossings, consider adding the SafeWalk™ Crosswalk Illuminator in tandem with LED-enhanced signs or RRFBs. They use a flood light to illuminate the approach area of the crosswalk and a beam light to illuminate the middle, ensuring motorists can easily see the entire crosswalk.

Illuminators are especially great for increasing pedestrian visibility at night in frequently visited areas, such as transportation stops, libraries, parks and shopping areas. A 2022 study found that the use of TAPCO crosswalk illuminators significantly increased detection distances for pedestrians, even when combined with the lowest level of ambient overhead lighting.

6. Give Pedestrians a Head Start

If none of these lighting-related methods work for you, concentrate on minimizing the time pedestrians and motorists interact. At intersections with traffic and pedestrian crossing signals, create a Leading Pedestrian Interval, a short interval for pedestrians to start crossing before the intersection signal changes to green. It’s a relatively simple and cost-effective solution that considerably reduces conflicts between pedestrians and turning vehicles.

For added protection, install a “No Turn on Red” sign, so motorists are less likely to enter crosswalks while slower pedestrians still occupy them.

7. Focus on Left-turn Collisions

Left turns are the cause of most intersection-related accidents, according to the NHTSA, even outnumbering right-turn crashes in heavily congested city streets. This poses a major threat to pedestrians — especially at night — because left-turning drivers are often distracted by watching oncoming traffic, only looking out for pedestrians as “an afterthought,” states the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium (OTREC).

Add a traffic signal with a green arrow for left turners, providing them with a protected right of way for a short time when pedestrians are not permitted to enter the crosswalk. The “green light for all” method may seem most efficient, but nighttime pedestrian safety must come first.

An intersection traffic signal with a left turn arrow.

8. Redesign Your Roadway

Finally, if none of these solutions are the right fit for a problem area in your community, you may need to redesign the area entirely. Look into solutions like raised crosswalks, road diets, pedestrian crossing islands and curb extensions. Then, consult with other experts to determine what makes the most sense for the problem area’s unique challenges.

While pedestrian safety is top of mind for many, tight budgets and competing priorities often get in the way. Don’t let them. Identify the right nighttime pedestrian safety solutions for the right places in your community by doing research and working with reputable providers, so no one else becomes a statistic.

Robert Kurka

TAPCO | Product Manager

With over a decade in business development, marketing and product management, Robert strives to improve transportation safety through innovation.

He is a pedestrian safety solutions expert who especially enjoys working with the TAPCO family to develop lifesaving products and solutions, such as the SafeWalk® Crosswalk Illuminator and the VizMark™ Pavement Marking Enhancement.

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