City of Orlando and Orange County BFFs see progress amid challenges to change driver behavior

Fondly referred to as the BFFs, members of the Best Foot Forward for Pedestrian Safety Steering Committee met last week at Orlando Health’s Regional Medical Center to review the program’s progress and plans for 2019 and beyond.

The BFF steering committee includes some of the most passionate, dedicated people in Central Florida transportation planning, engineering, education and enforcement working together to reverse the deadly trend of drivers striking people walking and bicycling. BFF partners taking part in the meeting included City of Orlando Transportation Planning and Police Department, Orange County Transportation Planning, Transportation Engineering and Sheriff’s Office, MetroPlan Orlando, Orlando Health, Florida Department of Transportation, University of Miami’s WalkSafe and Bike/Walk Central Florida.

To start the meeting, Mighk Wilson, MetroPlan Orlando transportation planner, gave an overview of Orange County pedestrian crash type trends. He stated that while MetroPlan’s data shows some progress, the recent bump in fatalities is likely tied to the overall bump in crash severity.

Mighk reported that the number of crashes involving motorist failing to yield is down this year.  He also said that as of October, pedestrian deaths and injuries are trending down in Orange County overall.  (Click here to review Mighk’s slides.)

The committee took some time to review BFF’s progress since the program began in 2012 and over the past year. Highlights include:

  • Since 2012, BFF has monitored 85 total crosswalks.
  • Law enforcement partners have issued 7,612 citations and warnings to drivers failing to yield to pedestrians during 381 Operation BFF enforcement details.
  • BFF partners have participated in 378 events and presentations.
  • In 2018, BFF garnered more than $650,000 in media value and 3,750,000 impressions.
  • In 2018, 22 crosswalks were monitored and enforced in the City of Orlando and Orange County.
  • 60% of drivers yield to pedestrians at monitored crosswalks on roads 35mph and lower in Orange County & City of Orlando – a jump from 17% in 2012.
  • 21% of drivers yield to pedestrians on roads 40mph and higher in Orange County & City of Orlando – a jump from just 2% in 2012. (Click here for complete 7-year list of BFF crosswalks monitored, including yield rates).

Before getting down to business of 2019 planning, the committee welcomed WFTV Eyewitness 9 News reporter Racquel Asa for a conversation on how we talk about pedestrian and bicycling fatalities and safety through the media.

The BFFs candidly discussed the language used in many news reports and how it feeds our “us (driver) vs. them (pedestrian)” culture.  BFF program director Amanda Day shared some examples of how victim-blaming is prevalent in news stories about pedestrian fatalities. Stories also tend to state that a vehicle, not a driver, is responsible for striking the pedestrian.

“We’re up against a language barrier when we discuss pedestrian fatalities,” said Amanda.

“It’s all about empathy when we try to change behaviors.”

Racquel also offered some advice on how BFFers can position pedestrian safety stories.  “Viewers need to be reminded of why this matters to them personally,” she said. She used examples of an accident affecting someone’s drive time to work or a new crosswalk making it safer near their child’s school. “Tell us why they should care.”

Click here to read more on the conversation with Racquel Asa.

The dialogue with Racquel also sparked ideas for more detailed driver/pedestrian education through the media. Ian Sikonia, senior planner with City of Orlando Transportation Planning, asked if it’s possible to add some “rules of the road for drivers and pedestrian safety” to the news stories reporting on pedestrian/driver crashes and fatalities. Thanks to his suggestion, Racquel followed up immediately after the meeting with a message that WFTV “is going to make it standard protocol now on including the ‘rules of the road for pedestrians’ in all related stories.” WFTV will also create a Facebook video that will explain the rules or laws using some of the elements and graphics from BFF.

BFF partners began reviewing potential crosswalks for monitoring in 2019.  Crosswalks must meet certain criteria to be viable for monitoring:

  1. Crosswalk is enforceable.
  2. Recent or planned engineering changes to the crosswalk.
  3. Low level driver compliance.
  4. Close proximity to schools, LYNX bus stops or SunRail.
  5. Located near a high crash corridor.
  6. Cross section of road speeds for all crosswalks.
  7. Geographically dispersed throughout City and Orange County.

The BFF committee will finalize the 2019 list to be monitored and dates for Operation BFF throughout the City and County in January.

Words matter: Reporting crashes in the media

Can you spot the difference in the following headlines?

“Vehicle Injures Woman, Police Say”

“Young Woman Faces Debilitating Injuries After Being Struck by Driver, While in Crosswalk”

The first headline uses passive verbs which separates the action from the subject. The language clearly creates a victim-blaming division of “us” vs “them.” It dehumanizes the person injured and the person who hit her. The headline is plain and uninteresting.

The second headline, however, uses active verbs and refers to humans instead of machines. It brings the realization that a human driver operating a vehicle crashed into a person walking rather than sounding as if the vehicle itself crashed into the pedestrian. The rhetoric of this headline causes the reader to become more interested in the story because they feel empathy for the humans involved.

Clearly, rhetoric has power. The language we choose to use when discussing crashes and pedestrian safety has the power to demand attention, evoke emotion and create behavior change. For this reason, it is so important that the media uses this correct rhetoric when reporting on pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Racquel Asa, a traffic reporter for WFTV Channel 9 and partner of Best Foot Forward (BFF), is accepting the challenge to change the rhetoric.

Asa joined the Orange County BFF Steering Committee planning workshop to discuss her experience in reporting on pedestrian-motorist crashes. She believes in adopting a language change that takes the headline from sterility to empathy, from legalities to regularities and from divided to unified. She desires for everyone to realize we are all on one team and, despite our car-centric society, we are all pedestrians at some point and we all want to arrive alive. To achieve this goal of unity and empathy, Asa uses her platforms to consistently remind drivers of the law and relate the incidents back to them as individuals.

Additionally, Racquel Asa joined other Orange County BFF partners in an open dialogue about how we talk about pedestrian safety and collisions. Asa encouraged BFFers to contact her in the future to keep talking about how we can continue to change the language revolving around pedestrian-motorist crashes.

Thank you, Racquel Asa, for consciously putting your Best Foot Forward to be the change.

First Ever Multi-Jurisdictional Operation Best Foot Forward

*Video Crosswalks are El Trio Way & North Pine Hills Road, North Thacker Avenue & Apopka Vineland Road

The Orlando Police Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Kissimmee Police Department, St. Cloud Police Department, and Osceola County Sheriff’s Office were out on November 7 cracking down on the crosswalks for the first ever multi-jurisdictional Operation Best Foot Forward. Officers and sheriffs enforced a total of 11 crosswalks throughout the day—and while some motorists yielded in the crosswalk, others did not—resulting in a $164-166 fine and up to three points on their license. As always, Best Foot Forward is not about giving people tickets, but about promoting safety in our communities.