This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
West Valley City • Darkness is one of pedestrians' and bicyclists' worst enemies, and darkness is settling in.
As autumn continues its steady descent into ever longer nights and the end of daylight saving time on Sunday pushing nightfall even earlier Utah public safety advocates and officials are urging pedestrians and cyclists to protect themselves. That means lights and reflective clothing and gear.
Safety advocates and officials demonstrated these defenses during the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday morning, at a driving test course in West Valley City. On the closed circuit course, two pedestrians walked side by side down an unlit road one wearing reflective straps, one not. As one faded into the dark morning, the other remained easier to see as lights of passing bicycles caught her straps.
"If you're not wearing reflective gear, [drivers] can't see you until they're basically right upon you, and it can be too late to stop," said Keri Gibson, a manager in the Utah Highway Safety Office. "With reflective gear, it helps them. It gives them up to more than 500 feet of visibility."
It's not enough to wear light-colored clothing, either.
"A lot of people, they feel they're visible if they're wearing a white shirt or even a fluorescent yellow jacket," Gibson said. "But at night, that car's not going to see them until they are close enough for their headlights to actually hit them in their line of view."
Halloween is also here and excited children are likely to be darting across darkened streets and "act unpredictably," Gibson added. Whether they are dressed as Elsa or Batman, children are liable to become the Invisible Man without safety precautions.
"It's important [for parents] to know as they go out … to make sure that they are visible," she said. "That they've got lights or glow sticks or their costumes have reflective tape on them, just to help increase their safety too."
Unified Police Lt. Lex Bell also cautioned drivers to go slow enough that they can stop in time if a child runs in front of their car. He also warned drivers to keep their eyes moving staying aware of not just what's going on right in front of them, but to the sides as well.
Nationwide, 76 percent of pedestrian crashes occurred from dusk through dawn in 2013 the latest year that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has tallied. It comes as no surprise, then, that Utah's winter months typically see more pedestrian crashes and fatalities, according to the state's highway safety office.
Phil Sarnoff, executive director of the cyclist advocacy group Bike Utah, knows firsthand what a difference a light on his bicycle can make.
"I had a vehicle up by the University of Utah that came right out in front of me," Sarnoff said. "And I said alright, it's time to get a light."
He recommends people look for lights that are rechargeable at home and have a lot of lumens the measure for emitted light. For instance, Sarnoff has a 1,000-lumen light on the front of his bike.
It's not just safe advice: It's the law, Gibson said. Cyclists must have a front headlight and rear taillight that are visible from 500 feet away.
Because, as Gibson put it, whether you're a cyclist or a pedestrian, "the car is always going to win."