Cars are supposed to stop for people crossing most intersections in Washington. But right of way doesn’t mean much when we’re talking about pedestrians vs. 3,000 pounds of moving steel.
A new Seattle public awareness campaign aims to prevent collisions by making drivers aware of their responsibilities to yield to people, even in unmarked crosswalks. This is a good, and potentially lifesaving, use of public resources. Nineteen pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes on Seattle streets last year, according to preliminary Seattle Department of Transportation data. Fifty-three others were seriously injured.
Fewer than 20% of drivers stopped for pedestrians at painted crosswalks in Seattle, in recent SDOT observations. More than two thirds of the city’s nearly 300 collisions between pedestrians and motor vehicles in 2020 happened at intersections, according to the department’s most recent annual traffic report.
Last spring, Seattle transportation officials began lengthening the walk-signal intervals at some busy intersections to help reduce this senseless injury and loss of life. But giving pedestrians more time to cross is only one part of the solution. Raising drivers’ awareness, and changing their driving habits, will complement this change.
The $350,000 project will begin with volunteers monitoring drivers’ behavior at 13 intersections throughout Seattle, including crossings near some school buildings.
Nearby “driver report card” signs posted at the test intersections will remind drivers to stop for pedestrians and show how many — or how few — drivers did so the week before. After about six weeks, SDOT staff will crunch the numbers and use the data to shape a larger public-awareness campaign.
The signs will also list the record for compliance at that intersection, in case competition proves a stronger motivation than safety.
Hey, whatever works, so long as it gets drivers to stop blowing through intersections like Ryan Blaney in his final lap at the Daytona 500.
Changing driver behavior is hard, but it’s a worthwhile effort. Failing to yield to pedestrians while driving is more than rude, it’s dangerous. Seattle transportation officials should be commended for trying creative approaches to make streets safe.