Local News

Researchers: Distracted drivers aren't only problem in busy crosswalks

Posted August 9, 2012 5:07 p.m. EDT
Updated August 9, 2012 5:53 p.m. EDT

— Distracted drivers get the bulk of the headlines, but according to highway safety researchers at the University of North Carolina, distracted walkers are just as much to blame for the state's high rate of pedestrian crashes. 

Whether it's ignoring traffic circles, failing to use crosswalks altogether or being distracted by technology like cellphones, pedestrians often put themselves in bad situations while trying to cross busy streets. In some cases, being distracted can have fatal consequences. 

"North Carolina has very large numbers compared with the rest of the nation in terms of pedestrian crashes," James Gallagher, with the Highway Safety Research Center, said. 

Between 1999 and 2009, about 2,000 pedestrians a year were involved in police-reported crashes with vehicles. Between 150 and 200 of those were killed, and an additional 200 to 300 were seriously injured. 

In 2011, about 170 pedestrians were killed in North Carolina. 

Wake County and Raleigh both rank second in the state in the annual number of crashes involving pedestrians, with Mecklenburg County and Charlotte ranking first. 

Gallagher said densely populated areas, especially those that are growing, are particularly troublesome.

"(Crashes) tend to happen around college campuses (and) downtown corridors that have a lot more pedestrian traffic," he said. 

As part of a class on pedestrian safety this week at North Carolina State University, Raleigh police officers and campus police officers from Duke University, North Carolina Central University, N.C. State and St. Augustine's University took part in a demonstration to help show how pedestrian wrecks happen. 

The training is designed to help officers better educate both drivers and pedestrians on state and local laws, making sure motorists are yielding to pedestrians in marked crosswalks. It's also part of the Watch for Me NC campaign, a collaborative effort with state and local transportation agencies to reduce the number of serious pedestrian crashes.

Researchers with the Institute for Transportation Research & Education at N.C. State said cars traveling 30 mph need about 140 feet, or about 2 seconds, to safely react and yield to a person in a crosswalk.

According to Raleigh police officer Ethan Brinn, pedestrians should be defensive when crossing streets and not assume that drivers see them. 

"More attention could be paid by both parties," Brinn said.