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Crossing the Street Safely: The Importance of Eye Contact

On Behalf of | Jan 5, 2018 | Firm News

NEW YORK. Many of New York’s road users are pedestrians. While the city has been making changes to street crossings to increase pedestrian safety, every year, pedestrians are killed or injured in vehicle accidents while crossing the street in the city. The New York Times reports that 144 pedestrians were killed in New York City in 2016. Pedestrian deaths account for the greatest number of people killed on New York City’s roadways, above drivers, bicyclists, and other road users. Most pedestrians know that it is important to obey traffic signals and to put away their phones while walking, but there is one more way pedestrians can keep themselves safe when crossing the street—eye contact.

Sign on the road- Children crossing

According to the journal of Safety Science, pedestrians who made eye contact with drivers increased the number of drivers who stopped to let them cross the street. The experiment asked pedestrians to stand at a street corner. Some pedestrians were asked to stare above the head of the driver and some pedestrians were asked to engage in eye contact with the driver. The pedestrians who engaged in eye contact with drivers were more likely to have the driver stop to let them cross. It sounds intuitive, and it indeed works. If eye contact can keep pedestrians safer, it is an easy step pedestrians can take before they cross the street.

This research can have major implications for traffic safety because of its ease of adoption. For example, children can be taught to make eye contact with drivers before crossing the street. Children are located at a lower line of sight at street level because they are shorter. As a result, they may be harder for drivers to see. However, when children make eye contact with drivers, they are ensuring that drivers see them before they enter the roadway. While this is particularly important for children, it can also be a good way for other pedestrians to double-check that a driver can see them before they step into the crosswalk.

The importance of eye contact for pedestrian safety highlights the ways in which social cues influence driver behavior. This has become a new frontier for autonomous vehicle researchers. If drivers take social cues for pedestrians, how can autonomous vehicles account for this?

In the meantime, pedestrians can keep themselves safe when crossing the street by looking before crossing, obeying traffic signals, putting away their cell phones, and making eye contact with drivers before crossing. Pedestrians are particularly vulnerable road users because they don’t have the protective chassis of a car in the event of a road accident.

New York is committed to increasing pedestrian safety. Yet, when pedestrians are injured in traffic accidents, victims and families may suffer immensely. If you’ve been hurt in a car accident, you may be entitled to seek damages under the law. The New York personal injury lawyers at Antin, Ehrlich, & Epstein, L.L.P. work closely with those who have been hurt in traffic accidents. Visit us at to learn more.