White Cane Safety Day aims to keep blind pedestrians safe

Advocate reminds drivers to follow law, avoid distractions, slow down

Mary Lee Turner calls herself a seasoned traveler. She has to be.

“There’s a lot of preparation before I leave home,” says Turner, who is blind and uses a white cane. “I have to do my homework.”

She studies her route and traffic patterns, uses navigation apps, wears bright clothing.

She always has her cell phone, a bus ticket, cash, the number to a cab company, extra cane tips. She puts her hearing aids on the outdoor travel setting.

“I think of all the contingencies,” she says.

But there’s one thing she can’t predict. “The bottom line is I can’t control how well or to what degree people who are moving around me will be responsible. It’s daunting.”

Turner lives in southeast Portland and is the chair of the Pedestrian Safety Action Coalition, which educates the public about pedestrian safety.

Mary Lee Turner
Stop for the blind

The group promotes White Cane Safety Day, which falls on Oct. 15 and was established by Congress in 1964.

Governor Kate Brown’s proclamation on White Cane Safety Day calls it “a day of awareness, education, and celebration of white canes and guide dogs for independent and safe travel.”

On White Cane Safety Day and every day, Turner wants drivers to respect the law, avoid distractions and slow down.

“Please take driving your vehicle seriously. Don’t be casual about it. My life and other lives are at stake,” she says.

She’s particularly wary of drivers who are backing up or turning right. Driveways and parking lots put her on guard.

She’s been hit by cars twice as a pedestrian, suffering brain damage after the most recent crash in 2011. “It doesn’t matter that what I’m doing is lawful if drivers aren’t,” Turner says.

Pedestrians are vulnerable, she says, and blind pedestrians are more so. She remembers how she used to envy pedestrians who weren’t blind and could simply cross an intersection.

It’s something she always thinks about, especially at busy crossings. “When I get to the other side I can hear the angels singing, celebrating that I made it across. I’m just grateful every time I get through an intersection.”

Marking the event

The U.S. Department of Transportation designated October as Pedestrian Safety Month and events throughout October focused on the importance of pedestrian safety in general and more specifically on blind pedestrian safety as well.

Remember it’s the law

Oregon crosswalk law (ORS 811.035) states: “A driver approaching a pedestrian who is blind or blind and deaf, who is carrying a white cane or accompanied by a dog guide, and who is crossing or about to cross a roadway, shall stop and remain stopped until the pedestrian has crossed the roadway.”

Resources

For more information on ODOT’s Pedestrian and Bicycle program visit www.Oregonwalkbike.org. You can also download toolkits in English and Spanish to help get the word out on pedestrian safety.