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Environmental Health

A crash course in stopping for pedestrians

A crash course in stopping for pedestrians

Oct. 14, 2021

By Mary Wade Burnside

On my way to work last week, I obeyed traffic laws and stopped for a pedestrian — who appeared to be a WVU student.

She had activated the crosswalk lights at the intersection of Falling Run and University Avenue and watched as cars continued to zip by her.

Only after I stopped and a few more vehicles from the other direction plowed through the intersection did a driver do the same thing and allow the woman to cross safely.

Later that day, I saw something even more alarming on a four-lane road. A driver in the left lane obeyed a crosswalk and stopped for a pedestrian. A driver coming along in the right lane couldn’t see the pedestrian and also didn’t take the stopped car as a clue. That driver nearly hit the woman.

Around the same time, a friend posted a relevant message on social media. “Red lights are not a suggestion.”

And neither is stopping for a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

Pedestrian safety is a matter of public health that Monongalia County Health Department takes seriously. It is also of particular interest to one of our former epidemiologists, who occasionally walked to work and noted that getting cars to stop at the awkward intersection of Van Voorhis Road and W.Va. 705 was very tricky.

It’s especially important in a city like Morgantown, which has a large student population, excess traffic and is not known as the most walkable city.

After nearly 18 months of relatively quiet in our streets due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation noticeably changed when WVU students returned in August. Around the same time, secondary school students also took to the streets again to walk to school or the bus stop.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017, nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in the United States, about one death every 88 minutes.

Additionally, CDC research states that an estimated 137,000 pedestrians were treated in an emergency department for nonfatal crash-related injuries in 2017. Per trip, the CDC adds, pedestrians are 1.5 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to be killed in a car accident.

In Morgantown, anyone who keeps up with the news has heard of instances in which individuals have been on the more dangerous end of a pedestrian vs. vehicle accident.

The CDC offers tips for pedestrians to make walking safer. Of course, we know that “crossing streets at a designated crosswalks or intersections whenever possible” still has its dangers. But it’s better to cross at a designated location and then, obviously, keep an eye out for the vehicles that do not stop.

You’ve heard of driving defensively. It’s even more important to cross defensively.

If it’s nighttime, of course, you can increase your visibility at night by carrying a flashlight and wearing reflect clothing.

We’ve all seen individuals walking on busy roads in Morgantown that lack sidewalks. While it’s not recommended, if you find yourself in that situation, walk on the shoulder and facing traffic.

And we all understand the allure of wanting to jam while your walk, but keep in mind that listening to music, like using alcohol or drugs, will cause distractions and impair judgment and coordination.

When it comes to schoolchildren, motorists should stop for school buses and also be careful around bus stops. Parents can teach their children the acronym SAFE, as listed on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website: Stay five steps away from the curb; Always wait until the bus comes to a complete stop and the bus driver signals for you to board; Face forward after finding a seat on the bus and Exit the bus after it stops and look left-right-left for cars before crossing a street.

​These tips mostly put the burden on pedestrians, who need to do their part by using crosswalks and staying alert. And it’s all the more reason for both motorists and pedestrians to be careful out there.

Mary Wade Burnside is the public information officer at Monongalia County Health Department.

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