Crossing a wide and busy road, you are careful to obey the rules. You wait until the light turns green, then walk to a passenger island surrounded by a steel barrier. You wait inside this sanctuary until the traffic lights change and allow you to cross the other half of the highway. Traffic hurtles past at breakneck speed, but in the haven of the pedestrian island you are protected. You can come to no harm, right? Don't bet your life on it. I have learned to my astonishment and consternation that these steel boxes are not designed to safeguard and protect pedestrians. No, the aim is to gather pedestrians into a confined space so they don't hinder the flow of traffic. The steel bars are not meant to stop an out-of-control concrete mixer from crushing you to death. They are aimed at keeping you a mid-road prisoner. Many pedestrians killed on the roads have nobody to blame but themselves. Last year, of 86 pedestrian fatalities, police say 33 were either jaywalkers or people acting heedlessly. But another 23 people died on footpaths or on the verges of country roads; there's no doubt that many were victims of lunatics who drive with reckless speed. Until earlier this year, I always had a feeling of security inside these cages. Then came an horrific tragedy that should raise serious concern among all pedestrians. In January, a five-year-old girl and a woman, 23, were within the stout fence of a traffic island in Causeway Bay. A taxi and a car collided. The car rammed the traffic island, which was packed with people. The girl and woman were killed and six other people were badly injured. Meanwhile, nobody has been charged in connection with the deaths. Those steel barriers in which you and I and millions of others trustingly and naively place unwavering faith have proven to be totally worthless. I am told by engineers that a normal family car travelling at 50km/h will bend these rods; if steel bars bend, think what happens to human bones. Now think further. Imagine you are jammed shoulder to shoulder inside one of these constricted steel pens in the middle of a typical frenzied Hong Kong day. Huge container trucks, lorries, buses, concrete mixers and other potentially lethal missiles roar past; when was the last time you knew drivers to obey the speed laws? The thought of a speeding lorry smashing into a herded pack of humanity has been on my mind since the death of little Li Chun-yee five months ago. Surely, if pedestrians are in a position where they have been herded by government designers then they should confidently expect not to be in harm's way. But when I quizzed the Transport and Highways departments about this, the reply was that the railings were for pedestrian control only. 'Railings are required to control and channel pedestrians on traffic islands where staggered crossings are installed,' a spokesman said. 'Unlike crash barriers which are either made with steel or concrete, railings are not designed to resist the impact of errant vehicles.' Well, they should be designed to do precisely that. Accidents like that which killed Chun-yee are, thankfully, rare. But her death should have come as a grim call for speedy action. Instead, it seems to have been ignored. The Road Safety Council admits it has never considered if the mid-road pens should be redesigned with safety uppermost in mind. Well, it should consider it. And urgently.