'Fall back' time change increases risk for pedestrians, cyclists

Posted at 5:00 AM, Nov 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-03 10:40:05-04

CINCINNATI -- The sun wouldn't rise for another 40 minutes after 15-year-old Gabriella Rodriguez was struck by one vehicle and dragged by another on Harrison Avenue -- a collision that would take her young life later that day.

The Sept. 10 crash made the Western Hills University High School softball star one of the latest casualties of what transportation officials have identified as the most dangerous time of day to walk or ride a bike in Ohio: just before sunrise or just after sunset.

Fifteen-year-old Gabriella Rodriguez died after two vehicles struck her in the early morning hours on Harrison Ave. (WCPO file)

With Sunday morning's time change, the Ohio Department of Transportation is warning drivers to be extra careful. Of the 145 people killed in Ohio after being struck by a vehicle while walking last year, 78 percent were hit at dawn, dusk or after dark, according to ODOT spokesman Matt Bruning.

The switch from Daylight Saving Time to Eastern Standard Time -- the "fall back" -- means drivers' evening commutes suddenly will switch from daytime to nighttime driving conditions, with the sun going down as or before people even begin heading home.

The switch back to EST also means November and December are the most dangerous months of the year for people walking or riding a bicycle in Ohio.

"We know that with the time change, it's going to get dark earlier," Bruning said. "A lot of people who commute home at the end of the day obviously are used to driving in daylight over the last couple of months. Well, now it's going to be dark for that commute home."

This means particular hazards for pedestrians, Bruning said, because visibility becomes a real challenge -- especially in the hours when it transitions from daylight to twilight.

"I think a lot of that happens at that transitional period where you're thinking, 'Hey, it's bright enough. I don't need headlights on my vehicle to see,'" Bruning said. "But you're not thinking about the fact that those headlights help you be seen."

It's not just headlights that become more important than ever, but other sorts of reflective gear that people walking or riding a bicycle can use, said Wade Johnston.

Johnston heads up Tri-State Trails, a local nonprofit that works to advocate for active transportation infrastructure in the Greater Cincinnati area.

Once the sun begins setting, walkers or bike commuters need to start thinking differently, he said.

Wade Johnston heads up Tri-State Trails, photographed Nov. 1, 2018. (Terry Helmer/WCPO)

"Make sure you are being seen by motorists. Don't expect motorists to see you," Johnston told WCPO. "That means as a pedestrian or runner, maybe wear some lighting -- flashing lighting or reflective gear. As a cyclist, it definitely means getting your lights out, putting on the reflective vest, especially if you're going to be riding in the roadways."

Johnston said street design plays a role, too.

"If we have road infrastructure that has bike lanes and really well-marked crosswalks and good signage, then it's going to show drivers that there's a right to the road for pedestrians and bicyclists that we need to accommodate when we're out there," he said.

Mostly, though, it boils down to enforcement, Johnston said -- and not police enforcement, necessarily, but self-enforcement. In other words, pay extra attention and follow the rules of the road.

"We all have a responsibility to be following the rules of the road, following the speed limit and not driving distracted with our phones," he said. "There's only so much we can do in the way of enforcement to stop people from doing this. It's a call to action to everyone to take it on themselves.

"Make sure you're visible."

Clocks fall back an hour at 2 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 4. The sun will rise at 7:10 a.m. for Monday morning's commute and set at 5:33 p.m. that afternoon.

The American Automobile Association offers these tips for drivers:

  • Turn on your headlights to become more visible during early morning and evening hours
  • Keep vehicle headlights and windows (inside and out) clean
  • Do not use high beams when other cars or pedestrians are around
  • Yield the right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks and do not pass vehicles stopped at crosswalks
  • Avoid distracted driving, including use of cell phones or any other activity that could draw your attention from the road

and for pedestrians and cyclists:

  • Cross only at intersections and look for cars coming from both directions before crossing
  • Avoid walking in traffic where there are no sidewalks or crosswalks, but if you have to walk on a road that has no sidewalks, walk in the opposite direction as traffic
  • Evaluate the distance and speed of oncoming traffic before you step into the street
  • Wear bright colors or reflective clothing if you are walking or biking near traffic at night. Carry a flashlight when you walk in the dark
  • Avoid distracted walking - including looking at your phone or listening to music. If you listen to music, make sure it is at a low enough volume to hear vehicles approaching
  • Bicycle lights are a "must have" for safe night riding.

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and mobility for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) and on Facebook.