An N.C. State University study of pedestrian crosswalks in Raleigh includes a rather benign police sting operation.
NCSU researchers are studying whether drivers yield to foot traffic at select pedestrian crosswalks in West Raleigh, and they’re doing it with the help of some off-duty police officers.
One officer, in plain clothes, poses as a pedestrian and crosses the street. If the driver yields, nothing happens. But if the motorist ignores the pedestrian, the undercover officer radios his partners – “apprehension officers” – who stop the offending vehicle and explain to the motorist that he or she has just broken the law by failing to yield to a pedestrian.
The officer hands the driver an educational leaflet about the state’s bicycle and pedestrian laws designed by WatchForMe.org, a campaign to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety in North Carolina.
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The interactions between motorists and the undercover pedestrian are video-recorded to document motorists’ failure to yield for foot traffic and will be used for educational purposes, said Kristy Jackson, a research associate with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program at N.C. State’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education.
“We want to measure that and convey the information to the Governor’s Highway Safety Program,” Jackson said.
The study is being done in partnership with Raleigh and N.C. State police. Jackson said the purpose during the stop is for officers to make an impression on motorists with the goal of changing their behavior and perception of foot traffic and pedestrian crosswalks.
The officers do not issue citations to motorists who fail to stop.
“In an educational program, rarely are citations issued for failure to yield unless it’s an egregious case, like excessive speeding or complete disregard for the safety of the pedestrian,” said Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue. “It’s possible citations could be issued, but for the most part, the purpose is to inform and educate.”
It’s the law
The program will focus on education and enforcement as factors that might “influence driver behaviors so that they will actively yield at pedestrian crosswalks, which is actually the law in North Carolina,” Jackson said.
State transportation officials report that about 2,400 pedestrians are struck by cars each year in North Carolina. In Raleigh, there were 244 traffic crashes involving pedestrians between 2000 and 2015. Nearly half, 111, were fatal. Eight percent of the fatalities and 13 percent of the injuries were at the city’s pedestrian crosswalks, according to city transportation officials.
The intersections involved in the study – five in all – are west of downtown. They are Ridge Road and Wade Avenue, across from the Ridgewood Shopping Center; St. Mary’s Street and Park Drive; Peace and Halifax streets, and Method Road, along Wilder Street and Richward Place.
The fifth location on West Morgan Street, near the Irregardless Cafe, is the study’s control site. Jackson said it’s not being monitored by police, but researchers are still studying the interplay between pedestrians and drivers at the intersection.
“This control site is to determine if there may be other external factors contributing to an increase or decrease in yielding,” she said.
The study will end in August.
State law dictates that pedestrians must look before starting across a highway without crosswalk signs and hash marks. Pedestrian crosswalks are located in urban areas where the speed limit is under 35 mph and in places that generate neighborhood activity like shopping areas, recreational spots, sports events and schools.
The crosswalks on Method Road best illustrate what Jackson means by significant neighborhood activity. The crosswalk at the intersection of Wilder Street is just across from the St. James A.M.E. Church. The intersection at Richward Place is across the street from Method Park and a community baseball diamond.
Save for the white hash marks on the road, the sites are without traffic controls like stop signs and signal lights. Still, Jackson pointed out that there are green, diamond-shaped signs with the figure of a pedestrian that informs drivers they must stop for pedestrians.
“It’s always the responsibility of the driver to yield,” Jackson said. “Failure to yield is against state law.”