RALEIGH — Two Raleigh police officers stopped short and jerked back as the car zipped through the crosswalk on N.C. State’s campus.
That one almost got you, another officer yelled from the sidewalk.
Triangle police will be looking for drivers who fail to yield in crosswalks during the state’s inaugural Watch for Me NC pedestrian safety campaign. They’ll look for reckless pedestrians too.
An education phase is under way. In October, city and campus officers will stop violators on foot and in cars to explain the right way to treat crossings, said Helen Chaney, a planner with the N.C. Department of Transportation.
They also may ticket drivers in “more egregious cases,” she said.
Watch for Me NC was planned in cooperation with the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at N.C. State University, the UNC Highway Safety Research Center, and law enforcement in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro. To help launch the campaign, signs are posted on Chapel Hill and Raleigh buses and at gas stations. Radio ads are running at prime driving hours in English and Spanish, Chaney said.
Roughly 60 officers are refreshing their knowledge this week at a institute-sponsored workshop.
Peter Flucke, a former law enforcement officer and national expert on pedestrian and bicycle safety enforcement with We Bike, etc., is teaching them to identify problem crossings, educate the public and better enforce traffic laws. The public needs to pay closer attention, he said.
Part of the challenge also is changing the state’s culture, he said. “One thing I’ve seen that’s unique to North Carolina – we have a whole bunch of people who change to other lanes so they don’t have to stop,” Flucke said.
Research shows it takes roughly a second for a driver going 35 mph to see someone crossing the street and to react. But it takes 171 feet to stop – about the length of three tractor-trailers.
The driver and the pedestrian have to be alert and give clear signals, Flucke said. In a typical collision, both usually make mistakes: the pedestrian by not crossing safely or assertively, and the driver by failing to yield the right of way, he said.
After discussing state pedestrian laws and how to enforce them, the officers headed to a marked crosswalk to practice a pedestrian safety checkpoint. They set up an orange traffic cone to mark the point where drivers should begin stopping and a radar to measure traffic speed, then took turns crossing the street.
While most drivers slowed down, and a few stopped, at least one blew through the crosswalk, barely missing the two fully uniformed Raleigh officers.
Raleigh police Sgt. Ethan Brinn said they will share what they learn with their fellow officers.
“It’s great this increases awareness among law enforcement,” he said. “It reinforces our knowledge of the laws on the books ... and gives us more tools.”
Statistics from the Highway Safety Research Center show that more than 1,800 people are hit by vehicles each year in North Carolina, making it No. 12 in the nation for pedestrian injuries. More than 400 are hit across the Triangle, leaving 339 injured and 20 dead.
Raleigh reports about 60 percent of the Triangle’s vehicle-pedestrian crashes, Chaney said. The city had 1,183 crashes from 2001-10, second in the state behind Charlotte, according to the N.C. Crash Data Query website. Durham was fourth with 798 crashes, and Chapel Hill was 12th with 184.
But the numbers may be higher. Past studies estimate only 56 percent of crashes are reported, experts say.