FAIRMONT - Recent reports of pedestrian fatalities statewide being the highest number in five years have local police reminding residents - both drivers and pedestrians - to be cautious.
"The statewide news release stated that as of Sept. 9, there had been 23 pedestrian fatalities statewide," said Fairmont Police Chief Greg Brolsma. "That number is on track to be one of the deadliest years."
He added that of the last eight traffic fatalities in the Fairmont area, three were pedestrians struck by a vehicle.
STAY?ALERT?— The signs at some of the crosswalks around Fairmont serve as a reminder to drivers to yield to pedestrians. However, it is only necessary to stop when there is a pedestrian attempting to cross.
"We need to have pedestrians and drivers be aware," he said. "With the 'Towards Zero Deaths' concept like the Safe and Sober model, it's a way for us to approach what's going on."
Police remind citizens that drivers and pedestrians have responsibility for safety.
"The law states that pedestrians have the responsibility to cross at an intersection and invoke the right of way if there is no signal," said Fairmont police officer Craig Fowler. "But they also need to remember that cars can't stop on a dime. During the summer, vehicles should be at least a half a block away when attempting to cross, and in the winter when it's icy, the vehicles should be a whole block away. Once the pedestrian invokes that right of way by starting to cross, then it is the driver's responsibility to stop. With that, pedestrians should not just wait at the corner and hope vehicles will stop. And if not planning to cross, they could be creating a traffic hazard by having drivers slow or stop."
At intersections where there are two lanes of same-way traffic, it is important to pay attention.
"A vehicle in one lane may be stopped for a pedestrian, but a driver behind them may not see that, and try to go through the other lane," Fowler said.
Pedestrians attempting to cross at an intersection with a signal must follow the signal.
"They need to walk when it signals to walk, and not try to cross when it says 'Don't walk,'" Fowler said.
With school back in session, some "Pedestrian crossing" signs have been up at some of the more busy crosswalks. However, they can create confusion for some drivers.
"They only need to stop if they see a pedestrian is there," said Fairmont Police Lt. Del Ellis. "We've seen some people stopping for the signs even though there's no one there, and that could cause an accident."
Other tips for drivers include:
o Watch for and anticipate pedestrians, especially around schools, and during big events.
o Drive at safe speeds. Pedestrians can be difficult to see at night or during bad weather.
o Drivers are required to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk, even if it is not marked. Stop far enough back so drivers in other lanes can see the person crossing and have time to stop.
o Do not block the crosswalk when stopped, and do not pass vehicles stopping for pedestrians.
o When turning, drivers often need to wait for a "gap" in traffic. Make sure a pedestrian has not moved into the intended driving path.
Tips for pedestrians include:
o Don't count on drivers paying attention. Try to make eye contact with drivers. Keep alert to other vehicles approaching the area.
o Be predictable by crossing the street where it is legal to do so. Use sidewalks where provided. If sidewalks are not available, walk facing traffic.
o Use extra caution when crossing multiple lanes and higher-speed streets.
o Make it easy for drivers to see you: Dress in light colors or wear reflective materials, and carry a flashlight if walking after dark.
o Alcohol and drug use can affect the ability to walk safely, much like a person's ability to drive.
"Pedestrians can have impairments too," Ellis said. "Alcohol, wearing headphones, other mitigating factors. We've had pedestrians that have been hit and survive, but our objective is always Toward Zero Deaths."
Along with the Safe and Sober enforcement efforts, local police will be watching the crosswalks a little more carefully.
"We'd rather have people drive safely on their own," Brolsma said. "We want our residents to be safe, but also to be forewarned."