"Yield to Heels" campaign aims to curb number of pedestrians hit on UNC Campus

March 26, 2003

By Renee Morin
UNC Highway Safety Research Center

CHAPEL HILL — In the first two months of 2003, four people walking on the UNC Chapel Hill campus have been struck and injured by cars. In an effort to increase campus awareness of pedestrian safety, the UNC Highway Safety Research Center and UNC's Department of Public Safety will host a "Yield to Heels" Pedestrian Safety Awareness Day Wednesday, March 26, 2003.

UNC Chapel Hill's concentration of motorized traffic creates a hazardous environment for campus pedestrians. According to UNC Department of Public Safety records, 11 campus pedestrians were struck by vehicles in 2001. Stepped-up efforts to create safer street crossings and promote pedestrian safety drew the number down to only 3 in 2002.

"Even 3 pedestrians hit and injured are 3 too many, especially if you're one of them," says Rachel Gurvich, a junior majoring in political science. Last September, Rachel was hit by a car while crossing in the marked crosswalk on Cameron Avenue by Phillips Hall.

"I was on my way to meet a friend on Franklin Street for a concert," explains Gurvich, "I saw the car and thought it was far enough away to see me and stop. But, the driver was distracted by something behind him and he hit me going 25 miles per hour." Gurvich was thrown 9 feet and suffered a serious knee injury that required surgery and left her on crutches for over four months.

As part of the "Yield to Heels" promotion, volunteers wearing campaign t-shirts will be stationed with message signs at three crosswalk locations from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on March 26th. Volunteers will be distributing informational fliers about the campaign at the pedestrian crosswalks on Columbia Street at Fraternity Court, South Road by the Fetzer Gym, and Manning Drive by the School of Dentistry.

"When we say 'Yield to Heels' we aren't just telling drivers to yield to pedestrians, we are also warning pedestrians to yield to drivers," reminds Lt. Bill Nato, supervisor of UNC Dept. of Public Safety's Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Unit. "Many students think they always have the right of way on campus, but when crossing the street at a place other than a designated crosswalk or intersection, the car or bus actually has the right-of way and the pedestrian needs to yield to the vehicle."

Not all pedestrian crash victims are as lucky as Gurvich. After the tragic death of a postdoctoral dentistry fellow hit in 1999, a pedestrian safety committee was formed to assess dangerous walking conditions and provide recommendations for safety improvements.

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

"Many campus crosswalks have been upgraded to improve pedestrian safety, but pedestrians cannot assume crosswalks are absolutely safe," said Doug Robertson, director of the UNC Highway Safety Research Center (HSRC) which also houses the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. "Motorists may not know a crosswalk is there, especially with so many drivers on campus who are not familiar with its traffic patterns."

Campus pedestrians also need to look out for "double" or even "triple threat" situations when more than one safety area should be assessed, such as crossing when motorists could be turning at intersections, crossing around buses, and crossing multiple lanes of traffic flowing in one direction.

"Some pedestrians are lured into a false sense of security when one vehicle stops and waves them across," explains Lt. Nato, "What they don't always remember is that another lane exists beyond the first lane, and the drivers in those lanes may not stop."

The UNC Department of Public Safety offers the following safety tips:


  • Be aware. Look across all lanes you must cross. Even though one vehicle has stopped, another may pass in another lane.
  • Be safe. Do not assume drivers can stop. Gauge the flow of traffic before you step out onto the road and wait if necessary.
  • Be considerate. Establish eye contact with drivers before crossing.


  • Be aware when entering a crosswalk area. Be prepared to stop.
  • Be safe. Do not overtake and pass other vehicles stopped for pedestrians on your side of the roadway.
  • Be considerate. Establish eye contact with pedestrians.

Although Gurvich was struck by a car over six months ago, "I am still really nervous when I cross the street. I refuse to cross anywhere other than at a crosswalk or with a signal, which may seem like a hassle to some of my friends who don't understand what it's like to go through the trauma of being hit."

To her friends and to all people walking on UNC's busy campus, Gurvich pleads, "Take street crossings very seriously, be sure to consider all possible areas where cars or even bikes could come from, and don't take it for granted that cars will stop for you."

"If you find yourself competing for space with a car or bus, I guarantee you'll lose and the consequences could be tragic."

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UNC Highway Safety Research Center contact: Renee Morin at (919) 962-7803

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

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