Police target drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

Sweet Home police wrote 68 citations for crosswalk violations last week during a two-day “targeted enforcement” aimed at drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.

On Wednesday, they wrote 48 citations for failure to yield and one for passing a vehicle stopped at a crosswalk. On Thursday, they wrote 19 citations for failure to yield. Police also wrote one citation for driving while suspended and two for driving uninsured. They cited two drivers for crosswalk violations on both days.

Chief Bob Burford said drivers did better in obeying the law at crosswalks on Thursday.

“It was slow,” Chief Bob Burford said after Thursday’s operation. “All-in-all, we had much better compliance today.

“The first day of the program, we were very busy and estimate that 80 to 90 percent of the drivers properly stopped for pedestrians. The second day, we estimate about a 95-percent compliance rate.”

The department receives frequent complaints about drivers who do not yield to pedestrians as required at crosswalks, Sgt. Jason Van Eck said. “But not surprisingly, when a marked car is present near a crosswalk, violations rarely occur.”

“The department is well aware that there’s a problem at the uncontrolled intersections (with no light or stop sign),” Burford said. “Pedestrians don’t feel they can cross safely.”

One of the reasons Burford decided to do the targeted enforcement was when he was standing in a business near the corner of Main and 13th and watched a woman trying to cross the road repeatedly have to wait as motorists whizzed by, he said.

Officers often see violations when they are responding to calls and cannot stop or when they are off duty, Burford said. When they have the opportunity, they do stop violators, but “when there’s a marked patrol unit, they’re a little more courteous.”

To address the problem last week, officers were temporarily pulled from other assignments to assist in the enforcement effort, a cooperative effort among the department, the Traffic Safety Committee and its Pedestrian Safety Program.

A volunteer “walker” was assigned to attempt to cross roadways at four different intersections, three on Main Street and one on Long Street, where the problem is most prevalent. The walker wore bright-colored clothing, and a police officer was posted nearby with a video camera. That officer radioed information to officers parked a short distance away.

The observing officer made the determination in most cases whether to cite the driver, Van Eck said. In nearly all cases, motorists who were pulled over were cited.

Each citation was issued for flagrant violations, Van Eck said. The observer did not call for stops when the violation was a “close call.”

The department’s two detectives both put on uniforms and participated in the operation with the patrol officers, Burford said. The department also spent no overtime funds on the operation.

Police used five cars and one observer, Burford said.

Drivers are required to stop for pedestrians at marked and unmarked crosswalks when a pedestrian signals his intent to cross the street, Van Eck said. A driver must remain stopped while the pedestrian is in his or her lane of travel or an adjacent lane. Drivers also must stop when a driver in an adjoining lane stops at a crosswalk.

Pedestrians are also required to “take due care,” Burford said.

Pedestrians are considered to be signaling when they approach or are standing on the curb, Van Eck said.

Last week’s operation was an effort to educate drivers and change driving behavior, Burford said. “We’re not trying to trick anybody. We’re not trying to catch anybody on the edge. The only reason we’re doing this is to try to make the roadway safer for pedestrians.

“We will do it again. In order to have an impact, you really need to target patrols and remind people to be cautious and aware of pedestrians.”

Officers heard several complaints about their operation, Burford said. About 75 percent of drivers were positive after being stopped, but “the other 25 percent were decidedly unhappy.”

The base fine for a failure-to-yield ticket is $242.

Despite what police officers heard many times during the operation, the Police Department does not receive revenue from the citations, Burford emphasized.