Best Foot Forward (BFF) Steering Committee members in Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties met last…
On July 21, three local law enforcement agencies spread out across Central Florida for Operation Best Foot Forward – a high-visibility enforcement operation to ticket drivers not obeying Florida law and stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks.
Many asked, why do an enforcement operation, now, during COVID-19? The answer is straightforward. COVID-19 and stay at home advisories did not bring an end to walking as a form of transportation, enjoyment, and exercise. Read more in our Media Release. In fact, more people are walking for those purposes.
How can pedestrians be sure they are safe when crossing the street in a crosswalk? Are drivers looking out for them? If not, who is?
More Pedestrians, Fewer Crashes, But Cause for Concern
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Florida, many people chose to stay at home, to stay safe. In fact, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis mandated stay-at-home during the month of April. As a result of these actions, fewer drivers were on the road early on, and pedestrian crashes decreased by 37%, cumulatively, from March through May, when comparing 2020 to 2019. However, as time passed and as more people were driving again, pedestrian crashes started to backslide toward 2019 levels.
That’s why the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, the Orlando Police Department and the Longwood Police Department joined together to do just that, to look out for pedestrians.
During Operation Best Foot Forward, officers and deputies monitored seven crosswalks, reminding drivers they must yield – slow down or stop – for a pedestrian crossing the street in a crosswalk, even when traffic control signals are not present. This is required under Florida Law.
In the roughly four-hour window of the enforcement operation, officers and deputies wrote 109 warnings and citations. Several local elected officials observed Operation Best Foot Forward firsthand, including Orange County District 3 Commissioner Mayra Uribe, Osceola County District 4 Commissioner Cheryl Grieb, and Seminole County District 4 Commissioner Amy Lockhart.
How It Works and the Consequences
During the enforcement, a plain-clothes officer or deputy crosses the street, legally, using the marked crosswalk and giving drivers enough time to slow and stop for them. If drivers don’t obey the law and stop for the pedestrian, they may get a $164 fine in Orange and Seminole counties, and a $166 fine in Osceola County. The citation also adds three points on their license.
Watch at 10 seconds, as driver narrowly missing hitting pedestrian (plainclothes deputy)
High Visibility Equals A Lot of Visibility
News coverage is a key component of Operation Best Foot Forward, because reporters help educate drivers about Florida’s pedestrian laws. The point of an operation isn’t to ticket as many drivers as possible, it’s to educate as many drivers as possible, and media visibility does just that.
Media interest was high, with five television news stations on scene as well as front-page coverage in the Orlando Sentinel. Additional coverage included WMFE radio, the Pine Hills Press and other local publications. It is estimated nearly 1.5 million people in Central Florida saw a news story about Operation Best Foot Forward, equating to nearly $162,000 in earned media value.
The enforcement operation was a big hit on social media, too. Best Foot Forward and Bike/Walk Central Florida posts garnered nearly 40,000 impressions with its posts across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Shared coverage by partners such as MetroPlan Orlando, the Orlando Police Department, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, in addition to posts from local media added another 500,000 impressions.
The coverage was a great vehicle to keep crosswalk safety in the forefront, even during the height of the COVID-19 crisis.
Driver Behavior Needs to Change
The enforcement operation’s purpose is to save lives, prevent injury and change driver behavior. High-visibility enforcement is just one tool to accomplish this as an intervention prior to bad behaviors becoming habit and contributing to death and injury. High-visibility enforcement along with community education and low-cost engineering solutions are vital in the Best Foot Forward effort to increase safety for those crossing the street, as well as to make drivers more aware of the people on foot around them.