Promoting travel safety on UNC campus to be focus of new awareness campaign

Press Release - For immediate use

Aug. 20, 2001

When driving on a college campus, motorists need to slow down and be ready to yield to pedestrians in marked or unmarked crosswalks.
Photograph by Kristin Oguntoyinbo

CHAPEL HILL — This fall, the UNC Highway Safety Research Center and the UNC Department of Public Safety will launch the first phase of an awareness campaign designed to increase travel safety on the Carolina campus.

The goal is to lower the risk of pedestrian-bicycle-motor vehicle crashes on campus through education and enforcement measures. This effort will complement the engineering modifications being made on campus by the N.C. Department of Transportation and the Town of Chapel Hill.

The campaign's second phase will take place during the spring semester.

"There's nothing unique about the UNC campus that makes it any more dangerous than any other university of our size and situation," said Dr. H. Douglas Robertson, director of the UNC Highway Safety Research Center. "What does make us unique is that we are doing something proactive to assure safe travel for all."

The fall campaign will focus on sharing safety tips with drivers and pedestrians, and educating them about the common errors that lead to crashes. Three campus officers will work fulltime on the campaign this fall, giving safety talks on campus, being visible and vigilant and issuing citations to motorists who speed or fail to yield to pedestrians.

Their participation in the campaign is being funded by a grant from the N.C. Governor's Highway Safety Program. The awareness campaign is supported by university funding.

Initially, pedestrians won't be ticketed, said Chief Derek Poarch, director of the UNC Department of Public Safety.

"In these types of situations, my preference has always been to gain compliance through education and awareness," said Poarch. "But I'm not shy about using enforcement if it's necessary."

Four driver safety tips have been developed for the fall campaign: slow down, expect the unexpected, take in what's going on and yield to pedestrians.

In addition, three pedestrian safety tips have been developed: be visible, be predictable and communicate with the driver.

Following these tips could prevent many crashes and injuries, said Charles Zegeer, associate director of the UNC Highway Safety Research Center.

"One of the most common mistakes pedestrians make is seeing a 'walk' signal and then assuming they're totally safe simply because the signal says walk," said Zegeer. "It's important for pedestrians to remember to make eye contact with drivers before stepping into the street, even if they do have the walk signal."

Multi-lane crossings at mid-block locations pose other problems for pedestrians and drivers.

"When a pedestrian crosses a street in a mid-block crosswalk," said Zegeer, "the driver in the vehicle in the lane closest to them may see them and stop, but the driver in the second lane may not see them because his view may be blocked by the vehicle stopped in the first lane."

Exercising caution and making eye contact with drivers at such locations is extremely important, he added.

Another common pedestrian error is darting unexpectedly into the street. "When this happens, motorists often don't have enough time to stop," said Zegeer.

Nighttime walks can cause problems for pedestrians who fail to realize that motorists often cannot see them, he added.

"We know from research studies that even pedestrians wearing white can only be seen from between 100 to 200 feet away by motorists in vehicles with low beams on," he said. "At speeds above about 30 miles an hour, this does not allow sufficient time for motorists to stop after seeing a pedestrian in the road. Therefore, motorists need to slow down in pedestrian areas, and pedestrians should assume that they are invisible to drivers at night."

Drivers should pay particular attention when driving on college campuses simply because of the increased volume of pedestrians, said Zegeer. "They need to understand that a college campus is an area where they need to slow down and be ready to yield to pedestrians in marked or unmarked crosswalks."

University environments pose special transportation risks, Zegeer added.

"One of the things you see on many college campuses, particularly larger universities like UNC, is students and professors from all over the world," said Zegeer. "That means you have drivers and pedestrians with a wide variety of transportation customs and expectations and that can cause problems."

A recent study by the UNC Highway Safety Research Center found that 57 crashes involving pedestrians occurred on the Carolina campus between Oct. 1, 1994, and Sept. 30, 1999. (Seventy-two such crashes occurred in the Town of Chapel Hill during the same time period.) The campus crashes tended to take place on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. The study also found that the number of crashes involving pedestrians rose significantly during September and March.

The fall campaign will include stepped-up police presence and enforcement throughout the campus, with particular emphasis initially at three selected intersections: Manning Drive at the UNC School of Dentistry, South Road at the Bell Tower and Pittsboro Street at the State Employees' Credit Union.

"The role of enforcement is to support the education and engineering efforts," said Poarch. "We're going to gauge the amount of enforcement we do based on the success of the engineering and education components of the campaign."

On Nov. 4, 1999, Dr. Fusayoshi Matsukawa, a UNC postdoctoral dentistry fellow, was struck by a car as he crossed Manning Drive at a marked crosswalk. He later died from injuries caused by the accident.

Following this tragedy, a 14-member pedestrian safety committee was formed to advise the university regarding pedestrian safety issues. The committee is made up of N.C. Department of Transportation officials, Town of Chapel Hill representatives, officers with the UNC Department of Public Safety, researchers at the UNC Highway Safety Research Center and university students, faculty, staff and administrators. This now-permanent university committee reports annually to the chancellor with recommendations for campus pedestrian safety improvements.

Since its formation, the committee's work has resulted in several engineering improvements:

  • Fluorescent green pedestrian crossing and warning signs at all campus crosswalks.
  • Mid-block traffic islands on South Road in front of the Carolina Union and in front of the Bell Tower that give pedestrians a refuge when crossing the street and allow them to cross just one direction of traffic at a time.
  • A solar-powered flashing light at the Manning Drive crossing near the UNC School of Dentistry.
  • Sidewalk additions at the entrance to UNC Hospitals.
  • Landscape barriers next to the Craige parking deck between Manning Drive and the sidewalk to prevent pedestrians from cutting into the street to cross at mid-block.

"Education coupled with engineering improvements and enforcement can be very effective in achieving the lowering of a high-risk situation," said Robertson. "College campuses need to be safe places for people to travel. I'm hopeful that we have the necessary expertise and resources to make the UNC campus safer."

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UNC Highway Safety Research Center contact: Emily Smith at (919) 962-7803

UNC News Services contact: Deb Saine at (919) 962-8415

Media Contacts

Caroline Dickson

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