One yield rate at a time

Six years ago, the Best Foot Forward (BFF) initiative launched to reverse the conflict between people walking and driving. The focus was simple: get more drivers to yield and stop for pedestrians at marked crosswalks as Florida law requires. Using education, engineering and enforcement, BFF has worked to increase awareness of this law and drive change at marked crosswalk locations across the county. So, how do we measure and track this progress? Driver yield rates.

Through constant tracking, we have seen the percentage of drivers yielding to people walking in crosswalks 40 mph and higher jump from 2% to 35%. In crosswalks 35 mph and lower, we have seen a percentage increase from 17% to 55%. Yes, there is still a ton of work to do, but the needle is moving in the right direction.

The tracking process is simple: Before and after each high-visibility enforcement detail, dubbed Operation BFF, data collectors make three separate trips to specific marked crosswalks and cross the street in intervals of 20. The number of drivers who stop for them versus the number of drivers who don’t form the yield rate percentage that BFF uses to track changes at each of our crosswalk locations. Over time, we can see whether or not more or less people are stopping, which is a direct indicator of driver behavior.

Let’s talk about driver behavior. See, when you’re driving, and you stop for someone walking, you’re being courteous – forming a belief that people driving are respectful of those around them. The opposite is also true, meaning that people who fail to stop for those crossing the street create an environment where people walking do not feel safe.  That’s why these habits form our driving culture, directly relating to whether or not people feel safe when walking our streets. Simply put, if yield rates show that more drivers are stopping for people walking, that’s progress towards a culture where people walking matter.

So, if yield rates are improving, what does that tell us about drivers in Central Florida?

We’re making progress.

Making the mark with media coverage

How do you know when you’ve made your mark? Especially when it’s about something so pedestrian as a pedestrian safety campaign.

Some say, the campaign hit the mark because of its catchy name, Best Foot Forward (BFF). The name sticks, surprises, and even incites some to smile. Others say, BFF made it when OCSO Sheriff Demings and the Kissimmee PD produced their own BFF videos to show they’re serious about making it safer for PEDs. Recently, we heard BFF hit it out the park when crosswalk enforcement, dubbed Operation Best Foot Forward, became part of the morning news traffic reports. It was then BFF went from an erasable marker to a waterproof Sharpie.

Just look at WFTV traffic reporter, Racquel Asa. For Operation Best Foot Forward, she reminds drivers about the driver yield law using a nifty, animated traffic map with crosswalk enforcement locations that generate a lot of gracious comments on social media.

Racquel is just one example and is certainly not alone. Recognition is due to all the local news reporters, TV anchors, print journalists, online bloggers and radio hosts’ fervent reporting on the growing pedestrian fatality epidemic and BFF’s small but focused role in changing the way we, as drivers, react to people crossing the street. Big kudos to our BFF’s in the local media. Without them, BFF would be remembered as Best Fade & Forget.

The most recent media coverage surrounded Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Orlando Police Department’s enforcement operation in June.

The Orlando Police Department (OPD) and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) joined forces for Operation Best Foot Forward (BFF), a high-visibility crosswalk enforcement operation where officers sporting their everyday clothes face a dangerous obstacle – crossing the street in a crosswalk. When drivers fail to stop, they are pulled over and issued a $164 citation.

Operation BFF is about more than citing drivers who don’t stop for people walking. It’s also about educating the community through traditional and social media platforms. While OPD and OSCO were able to hand out a total of 44 citations and warnings to drivers, local coverage through traditional media outlets and social media garnered over 960,000 estimated impressions (AKA, views). That means that almost one million people heard a very important message – stay alert and stop for people crossing the street.

BFF also had some special guests at some of our crosswalk locations. We were glad to see Adriana Patel, a trauma nurse at Orlando Health, who sees first-hand the end result of a car vs. person collision. We were also joined by Frank Gilbert, a Bike/Walk Central Florida board member, who is no stranger to the danger of cars on roads – he wheeled into our crosswalk location on his recumbent bike.

Some of our great media coverage included:

A round of applause to our local stations and outlets – WKMG Channel 6, WFTV Channel 9, Spectrum News 13, WESH 2 News, Orlando Sentinel, Bungalower and 96.5 WDBO – for spreading the word and starting the conversation about what we, as drivers, need to be doing when we see someone crossing the street.

One of the biggest and most important pieces of the education puzzle involves you, our readers. Our followers across FacebookTwitter and Instagram made sure to spread the word and asked all of the right questions about Operation BFF. Our partners at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office even used footage from the event to put together this great PSA for Facebook. Thank you for sharing with your friends and family and for commenting with your concerns and questions.

If BFF measured success in terms of reach, we’d definitely call this one a win. But, BFF measures success by yield rates – how many drivers are yielding to people crossing the street in marked crosswalks. Now that enforcement is over, our data collectors are visiting these crosswalks to see how drivers are doing. Stay tuned!

OCSO and KPD keep students safe with Operation BFF

The Kissimmee Police Department (KPD) and the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) are making sure kids stay safe as they head back to school. That’s why on August 15, officers from KPD and OCSO will be conducting their second high-visibility crosswalk enforcement action, dubbed Operation BFF, across Osceola County. At their first Operation, more than 95 drivers received a citation or warning for failure to stop for a pedestrian in a marked crosswalk.

On the flip side, a number of drivers did comply with the law.  One driver even called out that he had heard about the operation on the news and knew that if he didn’t stop, he was going to get a ticket. That’s where enforcement and education intertwine – through the media coverage before and after Operation BFF.

OCSO and KPD will be conducting Operation BFF on Wednesday, August 15, beginning at 7:30AM.

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Back in April, KPD and OCSO enforced the driver yield law at three marked crosswalks near local schools.

Enforced crosswalks include:

Officers dressed in plain clothes crossed the street in these crosswalks, giving drivers enough time to yield to them. Those who didn’t – a total of 96 – were pulled over and given a warning or a citation. Officers also took the time to educate drivers on the driver yield law and their responsibility in keeping people walking safe. Thank you, KPD and OSCO, for all of your hard work.

Both education and enforcement are part of the “Triple E” method of combining high-visibility Enforcement, Education and low-cost Engineering at marked crosswalks where drivers fail to yield to people walking. The Best Foot Forward coalition, which helps coordinate Operation BFF, has been implementing this method in Orange County since 2012 with positive results.

Local officials came out to support the cause and see first-hand was enforcement was all about with OCSO and KPD’s first enforcement action. A huge thank you to Osceola County Commissioner Cheryl Grieb, Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez, Kissimmee Commissioner Olga Gonzalez and Kissimmee Commissioner Jim Fisher for putting your best foot forward and showing your support.

Local media also hit the streets to get the inside scoop on Operation BFF. Reporters and camera crews from News 13WKMG News 6WFTV Channel 9 and WESH 2 News shared the story on the air, while WDBO filled drivers in through the radio. Thank you to our local media for helping spread the message of safety in the crosswalks. For every person stopped, BFF hopes to educate at least 1,000 more through traditional and social media. Check out all of our media coverage on our YouTube channel.

Check back on our social media pages and website for information about enforced crosswalks and times for the upcoming Operation BFF.

Vehicle size matters

Sport utility vehicles (SUVs) come in handy – they make it easy to lug around groceries and kids, can stand some off-roading and may even score some pretty decent gas mileage if you have a newer model. However, these perks also come with a huge downside: People walking have a greater chance of dying when they are hit by SUV drivers.

It’s easy to understand why. When a person is hit with a standard-sized car, they are typically struck around their legs, not putting vital organs directly at risk. But, an SUV’s huge front end makes impact with the upper body/chest region, which is more likely to cause fatal injuries. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calculated an 81 percent increase in single-vehicle pedestrian fatalities involving SUVs from 2009 to 2016. Another report by the Free Press/USA Today showed a 69 percent increase in SUV involvement in pedestrian collisions. So, while drivers of SUVs only make up 33 percent of pedestrian injuries, they make up 40 percent of deaths.

Now that there is statistical data about car size, what role do car makers and safety regulators have in preventing collisions? There are a variety of options to help curb this deadly trend. The first step is to acknowledge the role that SUVs play in pedestrian fatalities. Then, automakers, government agencies, local governments and other groups can work together to save lives.

 

Federal safety regulations

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) made the connection between SUVs and pedestrian fatalities in 2015 and announced a plan to overhaul its vehicle-safety rating system to include a new score for pedestrian safety. These changes have stalled and nothing new has been implemented. If this score was factored into vehicle safety ratings, automobile manufacturers would focus more on safety features that keep people walking safe.

The NHTSA has not given a statement regarding the stalls but told the Free Press/USA today that it is “working on a proposal for a standard that would require protection against head and leg injuries for pedestrians impacted by the front end of vehicles.” They plan to meet about this topic in sometime in 2018, but nothing is currently scheduled.

 

Car manufacturers

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center have found that the use of pedestrian crash avoidance/mitigation systems and features such as automatic emergency braking, could reduce up to 5,000 vehicle-to-pedestrian crashes and 810 fatal crashes per year.

Right now, there is no requirement in the U.S. for automakers to use safety features such as the automatic braking feature. So, while some car companies utilize these options, many do not. In Europe, taking the extra steps to prevent collisions is the standard. Because pedestrian safety is a key rating component, European automakers are working hard on new technology that both prevents collisions and lessens the impact should a collision occur.

Pedestrian collisions and fatalities are preventable. In order to reverse these tragic trends, federal regulators and car manufacturers must use the information found in these reports to come up with solutions.

Read more about this topic in this eight-chapter report from the Detroit Free Press.

Pedestrians vs people walking – there’s a difference

Did you catch this news story from WKMG earlier this month? “Orlando man was struck and killed by a Ford Mustang as he crossed the street Tuesday night”.

You may not have noticed it, but the words used have a direct impact on how we decipher the information. When reporting on fatal collisions, language is often biased towards people walking, such as the example above. Simply stated, certain words create bias regardless of the intended content of a message.

Let’s break that down further. Most of us drive, and, as drivers, we can relate to not seeing a person crossing the street until the last minute. We have a tendency to get upset or think the pedestrian is insane for walking. But, realistically, relating to a driver as opposed to a person walking doesn’t make much sense. We were on foot long before we had vehicles, so why do we have such a hard time identifying with people walking? Experts believe that the language used in news reports and articles plays a big role. Take the words “accident” and “incident” for example. Both words can have the same intended meaning, but our brains decipher them in different ways. Accident refers to an event happening without a plan or cause, whereas incident links the cause and the effect. That means the word incident is a better option, because while there was never a plan for a pedestrian dying, there is always a cause.

Thankfully, there is a heightened public awareness in the words we use to phrase everything from incident news reports to company instruction manuals. Reporters are becoming more self aware of their influence on the public, rephrasing their stories to better explain situations. In a recent Pensacola News Journal article, reporters delved into the backgrounds of two people involved in a crash. Many articles would read that the victim, Michael Tew, was hit by a car as he was walking. Instead, this article identified and humanized the driver as well as the victim, because Michael wasn’t hit by a car: he was hit by the driver operating the car.

When it comes to language barriers in news reporting, we still have a long way to go. We can start by talking about “incidents” instead of “accidents”; “people walking” instead of “pedestrians”; and drivers hitting people, instead of the cars. Let’s stop victim blaming with our words and start changing the language we use.

 

You can read more about victim blaming and removing the bias here:

When covering car crashes, be careful not to blame the victim

Making a case for transportation language reform: removing the bias