Safety concerns heightened after cluster of pedestrian fatalities

In 2012, there were a total of 30 pedestrian fatalities in the state, according to the Delaware Office of Highway Safety (OHS). Within the last six months, there have been at least 10 pedestrian fatalities, and OHS and other organizations have been hard at work to try to keep people safe.

“We ended 2012 with a 30 pedestrian fatalities, which was a big spike for us in Delaware,” said Alison Kirk, public relations officer for the OHS. “I can’t say when we had so many pedestrian fatalities in one year. We try to keep it under 20. Obviously, we would like to have it be zero, but things happen.”

This year, OHS currently has a zombie-themed pedestrian safety campaign, “Don’t Join the Walking Dead,” which they hope will encourage pedestrians to be vigilant and safe.

“When we planned it, it was to focus in New Castle County, because the majority of our crash data showed all of the clusters there. With the most recent crashes and fatalities happening down at the beach, within such a short period of time, we are partnering with the trauma nurses at Beebe hospital and are setting up pedestrian safety checks.”

The OHS and its partners, including the Delaware State Police, the Delaware Department of Transportation and Beebe Medical Center, will hold two checkpoints promoting pedestrian safety. The checkpoints will take place on July 26 at the Starboard in Dewey Beach and Aug. 3 on Second Street in Lewes.

“We’ll have a tent set up where we have our banners and information about pedestrian safety to distribute to the community. Pedestrians walking by, we’ll give them information, flyers about pedestrian safety, how to cross the street, where to cross and also give them a reflective item. We’re also having our partner agencies coming with their information to help spread the word.”

Kirk said that OHS has also partnered with local law-enforcement agencies, urging them to be lenient with pedestrian tickets and instead just give a friendly reminder of safe practices.

“Instead of throwing them a ticket, just say, ‘Hey, it would be better if you crossed at a crosswalk instead of midblock, because we’re having a lot of crashes.’ That’s what we’re trying to do.”

She said that OHS also has data analysts who try to pinpoint the reasons for the accidents and then takes that information to their partners, to help look for a solution.

“Data analysts are looking at where crashes are happening, what time of day and what day of the week they are happening, and trying to see is there is any common factor. We try to look at all that different data that we have available to us to figure out what can we do for highway safety to address that issue,” she said, “what can we all do together to try to improve this.

“That’s where we are now this year. We had a pedestrian safety meeting with all the partners earlier in the year to discuss this. There is a lot of traffic and roadway improvements that could be done but that you probably won’t see because it takes them so long to be constructed. But DelDOT is taking all of that under advisement.”

Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin said that his department also plans to have its annual bike safety checkpoint in Ocean View this summer, but a date has yet to be finalized.

“These checkpoints were developed in response to some serious collisions that we’ve had in the past involving bicyclists, primarily on the Route 26 corridor. We have a huge influx of seasonal foreign students that come to work here each summer. Their primary mode of transportation is bicycling,” he noted.

As for safety precautions, both Kirk and McLaughlin said the rules are very simple.

“It’s what your mother told you,” said Kirk. “Look both ways before you cross the street, don’t step out in front of a car, use the crosswalks at marked intersections. If you’re walking at night, carry a flashlight or carry something reflective so a car can see you. Cars can’t see you if you’re wearing dark clothing. Always walk against traffic. Bicycles ride with traffic.

“It’s a lot of the simple stuff we heard growing up as kids that I think we tend to forget.”

“Bicyclists should follow the rules of the road. Don’t drive against traffic, drive with traffic. Bicycles, per Delaware law, essentially have to follow the same laws as any other vehicle on the road,” reminded McLaughlin. “Stop at the stop signs, stop for the traffic lights. And, especially during the evening hours, make sure you’re wearing bright clothing, reflective clothing, and you have the appropriate lights on the bike.”

Bikes are required under Delaware law to have a white light on the front of the bike and a red reflector on the rear of the bike.

“And wear a helmet. Many folks — especially the teenagers and young adults — are reluctant to wear them because maybe they’re not fashionable or whatever, but it truly can be a lifesaver.”

Delaware law requires that those younger than 18 wear a helmet when cycling. The law also requires pedestrians to carry a flashlight or reflective object when walking at night.

Kirk said people all need to do their part to keep each other safe on the roadway.

“We all have to take our part on the roadway. Remembering that we are pedestrians at some point in time when we do get out of the car. Motorists, just because we may be trying to get somewhere fast in our car, we eventually park and get out and become the pedestrian. We need to take care of each other in the roadways and watch out for each other.”

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