White Cane Safety Day is a Great Opportunity to Be a Pedestrian Safety Advocate

A parked Wausau Metro Ride bus displaying a large ad on the side reading “Hey—I’m walkin’ here! Stop 10’ from pedestrians crossing the street” along with the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired logo.

Metro Ride in the Wausau area is one of the transit systems displaying our White Cane Safety Day ads this year.

Dawn Meyer has noticed ads promoting pedestrian safety and White Cane Law awareness on the sides of Green Bay Metro buses. But the 55-year-old resident admits she’s not sure what it all means.

“I’m not really familiar with the way pedestrian safety and the White Cane Law work together,” Meyer says.

“I’m going to guess it’s about being more aware of people who are walking and crossing the street.”

Meyer isn’t too far off. The Council sponsors these ads in various communities to get residents thinking and interested in learning more about pedestrian safety and the law.

Wisconsin’s White Cane Law says:

An operator of a vehicle shall stop the vehicle before approaching closer than 10 feet to a pedestrian who is carrying a cane or walking stick which is white in color or white trimmed with red and which is held in an extended or raised position or who is using a service animal…and shall take such precautions as may be necessary to avoid accident or injury to the pedestrian. The fact that the pedestrian may be violating any of the laws applicable to pedestrians does not relieve the operator of a vehicle from the duties imposed by this subsection.

What is White Cane Safety Day?

October 15 is recognized nationally as White Cane Safety Day. Created in 1964 by a Congressional resolution and a proclamation signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, its purpose is to raise awareness of the right-of-way for pedestrians who are visually impaired and using a white cane or guide dog.

White Cane Safety Day also highlights the importance of White Cane Laws. Each state has such a law on the books, though the details vary from state to state.

57 years after President Johnson’s proclamation, efforts to educate the public about the law through White Cane Safety Day continue.

“White Cane Safety Day is a good reminder to keep people safe and to drive with courtesy and attention,” Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) Bureau of Transportation Safety Director David Pabst says.

“One of the first lessons for drivers is to watch for pedestrians and yield to them at crosswalks. That is just basic safety. For those using canes or service animals for guidance, the law requires at least that 10-foot buffer.”

Why Advocating for Pedestrian Safety Matters

The issue of pedestrian safety is one of the Council’s key advocacy priorities. When you look at the number of pedestrian fatalities in the state, it’s easy to understand why.

According to WisDOT, 53 pedestrians were hit and killed by drivers in 2019, and 52 more in 2020. Overall, more than 1,300 pedestrians were hit in Wisconsin in 2019.

“There have been increasing numbers of pedestrian fatalities locally, statewide and nationally in recent years,” Madison’s City Traffic Engineer Yang Tao says.

“We need to reverse that trend. White Cane Safety Day gives us the opportunity to highlight the role we all play in ensuring our streets are safe for pedestrians, particularly those who are blind or visually impaired.”

Pedestrian safety advocacy is a year-round effort at the Council, but the issue takes center stage on White Cane Safety Day. The Council facilitates the statewide proclamations issued by the governor and mayors across Wisconsin, as well as news conferences and other forms of publicity.

This is also an opportunity for the Council to connect with police departments to ask for support in educating the public. In addition, the Council reaches out to driving schools to ask that instructors highlight the White Cane Law in their curriculum.

“Elders, families and others who need more time to cross the street are benefiting from drivers following the White Cane Law, not just those of us who are using a white cane or service dog,” Executive Director Denise Jess says.

“Stopping your car 10 feet from the crosswalk is a great idea for everyone. And knowing that is the law, you will help save lives.”

Wisconsin drivers who violate the state’s White Cane Law face fines of up to $200 for a first offense. Additional violations can bring more than $500 in fines and time behind bars.

New Initiatives Underway

Pedestrian safety is often tied to transportation infrastructure projects. And one example is happening in Madison.

Vision Zero focuses on reducing injuries and deaths while increasing mobility and equity for everyone. City officials say it includes incorporating accessible features like detectable warning fields and pedestrian signals to increase the safety of pedestrians who are blind or visually impaired.

“Our daily choices matter, especially when we get behind the wheel,” Tao says. “Learn about and obey the White Cane Law and you’ll be creating a safe and inclusive community for all.”

Meyer agrees.

“Just noticing the ads on the buses made me want to learn more. Now I know, if you see a person using a white cane, give them their space by following the law. It’s common sense and will keep everyone safe.”

How You Can Easily Support White Cane Safety Day

  • Post about White Cane Safety Day on social media. The Council will also be posting about it, and we invite you to share our posts on your pages. Social media templates are available on our website.
  • Submit a letter to the editor to your local newspaper. Explain White Cane Safety Day, why it matters to you and why it should matter to the entire community.
  • Contact your local elected leaders and ask them to support White Cane Safety Day. You could even ask them to issue a formal proclamation for White Cane Safety Day in your area. And if they do, be sure to let the Council know so we can share it! You can find a proclamation template on our website.

Other Resources

Learn more about pedestrian safety in Wisconsin on the WisDOT website.

Find information about motor vehicle crash statistics from across the state on the Wisconsin Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory Systems website.

Read some facts and common misconceptions in this Council article from a few years ago.

Learn more about other states’ White Cane Laws on the American Council of the Blind website.

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