Are "Deaf-Blind Pedestrians" Street Signs Effective?
by Dona Sauerburger, COMS and Joumana Sauerburger
After reading Gene's article "Are Area Warning Signs Effective?" (which explained that they usually are not!), we noticed signs saying "DEAF-BLIND PEDESTRIANS" near several crosswalks along College Avenue in Rockville, Maryland.
Drivers approaching these crosswalks from both directions passed these signs about 150 feet before they reached the crosswalk.
One of the signs is shown to the left below - the crosswalk is where the red car is waiting for a pedestrian holding out a white cane (the photo at the right below shows a close-up of the pedestrian and car).
These signs had been installed about 7 years ago at the request of a deaf-blind woman who said that the signs "help drivers to be aware that deaf-blind people live in the area. I walk across the street and they will stop for me."
We wanted to find out if this was true.
We found two streets similar to the one with the "DEAF-BLIND" signs where we could compare and find out if the signs made a difference to the drivers (photos of each site are below).
All three crossings had white painted crosswalks with identical pedestrian signs, and they were all on streets about the same width with a speed limit of 25 mph.
They were all within a mile of each other, although they were not on the same streets and it was almost two miles to drive from College Avenue to the third site.
We started by measuring how far from the crosswalk the drivers had to be in order to stop for the pedestrian.
According to the chart at http://www.csgnetwork.com/stopdistinfo.html, vehicles going between 25 and 30 miles/hour would need about 97 feet to stop.
So at each site, we chose landmarks that were 97 feet to the left and to the right of the crosswalk.
Then we considered how to present the pedestrian to the drivers.
We decided she would not walk further than 2 steps into the street because doing so would make it extremely likely that the drivers would stop (Bourquin, Wall and Sauerburger, 2011).
If almost all the drivers stopped at all 3 sites, we would not have enough of a difference to compare the effect of the "DEAF-BLIND" signs.
The next question was how the pedestrian should present the white cane.
The deaf-blind person who requested the signs said that when she crosses, she keeps the cane on the ground in front of her and walks forward.
We didn't want to have the pedestrian walking more than a step or two into the street, but we knew that if we have the pedestrian waiting near the curb while keeping the cane on the ground, many drivers will not stop (Geruschat and Hassan, 2005, Sauerburger, 2003).
We wanted to achieve a balance in the drivers' reactions between a pedestrian waiting at the curb with the cane tip on the ground, and one who walks out into the street and trusts the drivers to stop, as the deaf-blind woman does.
So we decided the pedestrian will stay at the side of the street but, rather than leave the cane tip on the ground, she will raise it higher than her head and bring it back to the ground several times after she takes one or two steps into the street.
We also decided to increase the likelihood that drivers will stop by having the pedestrian wear bright clothes and not look at the drivers.
We then started to collect data at the 3 sites -- the photos above and to the left show Joumana following protocol as the pedestrian on the north side of College Avenue.
Joumana waited about 10 feet from the curb until she realized that a vehicle was approaching.
She then approached the curb with her cane tapping the ground in front of her, striving to reach the street at the same time that the driver reached the spot 97 feet from the crosswalk.
When she reached the street, she stepped into the street and, looking straight ahead, moved the cane up above her head and then back down several times and waited to see if the driver would stop.
If the driver stopped, she lowered the cane and proceeded across, as shown in the photos below taken at the south side of College Avenue.
If the driver did not stop, she waited until the car passed and then she returned to the sidewalk.
The three sites are shown below:
Photo shows the College Avenue approach from the west. Drivers start at the stop sign and then pass the sign saying "DEAF-BLIND PEDESTRIANS" before reaching the crosswalk with another yellow pedestrian sign, which can be seen in the distance.
The College Avenue site had cars parked along the south side of the street.
When the pedestrian crossed from the south side, this didn't seem to be a problem for the drivers coming from her left.
They were not able to see her approach the street but when they got to about 150 feet from the crosswalk, they were able to see the corner where she would step out into the street and raise her cane.
The photo to the far left shows the view from about 200 feet of the crosswalk.
The first yellow sign in both photos says "DEAF-BLIND PEDESTRIANS" and about 150 feet beyond that, a yellow pedestrian sign is visible at the crosswalk where Joumania would be stepping into the street and raising her cane.
However the drivers from her right could only see her as she approached the corner -- once she got to the corner and raised her cane, they couldn't see her, as shown in the photo to the left.
There were 5 cars approaching from this direction, and 3 of them did not stop or slow down.
At this site, the pedestrian approached the street from only one corner. From her left, the drivers' view of her was somewhat obscured by a parked car.
The pedestrian is on the south side of Martins Avenue -- this driver approached from her right and did not stop for her.
These photos show the pedestrian waiting to cross from the north side of Martins Avenue.
We presented the pedestrian to 32 drivers at College Avenue (we only used data from 27 drivers -- see below), 9 drivers at Fordham Avenue and, because the traffic was so sparse there, we went to the crosswalk at Martins Avenue and had trials for 33 more drivers.
Here are the results:
Pedestrian on the south side:
From the left (12 cars): 2 did not stop
From the right (5 cars): 3 did not stop
From the left (9 cars): all stopped
From the right (6 cars): 1 did not stop
TOTAL for College Avenue (not counting the 5 approaching from the right on the south side):
(27 cars) 24 stopped, 3 did not stop
FORDHAM AVENUE(all crossings were from the north side)
From the left (7 cars): all stopped (even though their view was partly blocked)
From the right (2 cars): 1 stopped, 1 slowed down and watched her while moving forward slowly
TOTAL for Fordham (9 cars): 8 stopped, 1 slowed down
Pedestrian on the north side:
From the left (8 cars): all stopped
From the right (5 cars): 1 did not stop
Pedestrian on the south side:
From the left (12 cars): 1 did not stop
From the right (8 cars): 2 did not stop, another slowed down and passed cautiously
TOTAL for Martin (33 cars): 28 stopped, 4 did not stop, 1 slowed down
The majority of the drivers did very well at all 3 sites. Of the 69 drivers whose view of the corner was not blocked by parked cars, only 7 failed to stop or slow down enough to have been able to avoid hitting the pedestrian if she had started crossing.
This experiment supported the information outlined in Gene Bourquin's article -- there was no statistical difference between the behavior of the drivers who had to pass the "DEAF-BLIND PEDESTRIANS" signs on College Avenue and those who approached the other two crosswalks. At College Avenue, of the 27 drivers whose view of Joumania was not blocked by parked cars, 3 failed to stop or slow down, and at the other two sites 4 out of 42 drivers failed to stop or slow down.
The pedestrian had timed her approach so that the drivers would see her step into the street and raise her cane when they were just far enough to have enough time to stop.
Of the 5 drivers who passed the DEAF-BLIND PEDESTRIANS sign and then approached where their view of Joumania was blocked at that critical stage, only 2 managed to stop for her.
We feel that it is important for pedestrians who are blind or deaf-blind to know that sometimes the drivers will not be able to see them in time to stop, as was the case here.