MoCo launches pedestrian safety campaign

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MoCo launches pedestrian safety campaign

Pablo Roa

Pablo Roa

Pablo Roa

By Pablo Roa, Production Editor

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Teens ages 15-19 make up 51 percent of underage pedestrian fatalities. In Montgomery County, that age group also makes up the largest percentage of pedestrians who are at fault in collisions. With the “YOLO” campaign, county officials are hoping to make those statistics a trend of the past.

In an effort to increase pedestrian safety awareness among high school students, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) recently teamed up with MCPS to launch the “YOLO” campaign, a year-long initiative created to inform the public of the dangers created by distracted walking.

The initiative expands upon a program started last year which encouraged students to create, design and implement their own pedestrian safety campaign at their school. The “YOLO” (“You Only Live Once”) campaign goes one step further by suggesting specific ways to spread pedestrian safety awareness.

“We want to prevent the tragic consequences of distracted teen walking and driving, and one of the best ways to reach teens is by involving them in educating their peers,” county executive Isiah Leggett said in a Sept. 17 press statement.

The “YOLO” campaign is intended to teach teenagers the dangers of walking near roadways or parking lots while being distracted by cellphones, music or anything else that takes their attention away from their surroundings. While pedestrian safety is an issue for people of all ages, the campaign addresses the problem at the high school level because teenagers are most susceptible to pedestrian-related accidents.

“I think it’s a very worthwhile campaign,” Principal Joan Benz said. “We see it all the time; kids get hurt, cars go up on sidewalks, and sometimes kids are walking in places where there are no pedestrian crosswalks. Some kids take off out of the parking lot at high speeds, and that can be dangerous for students crossing the lot or walking across the street.  It’s something to raise a heightened awareness of the dangers that are involved.”

With the new initiative, MCDOT sent toolkits to MCPS high schools containing “YOLO” campaign guidebooks. The guidebooks not only provide statistics for why a pedestrian safety campaign is necessary, but they also suggest different activities that schools can participate in to help get students involved in resolving the issue.

“The YOLO campaign empowers students to use their creativity to convince their friends that crossing the street or driving while texting, playing handheld games, listening to music or engaging in phone conversations is not only a bad idea — it could mean the difference between life and death,” Leggett said in the statement. “And, we hope that parents set the example for their children by also putting away their devices when driving or walking.”

Along with the guidebooks, the campaign also distributed posters portraying local teenagers with tire marks going across their faces. While the posters are intended to show the possible consequences of unsafe pedestrian behaviors, some believe they fail to get the message across.

“I think that they’re so generic that they don’t really mean anything to me personally,” senior Arturo Woodward-Montes said. “I can’t even tell if the poster is talking about pedestrian safety or something else, like drunk driving.”

While some are skeptical about the “YOLO” campaign, Nadji Kirby from MCDOT assures that the initiative has been successful in raising pedestrian safety awareness in Montgomery County.

“The feedback that we have received from the campaign both in the County and regionally has been very positive,” Kirby said. “I have already received a few phone calls from students interested in doing a project at their school, so I am very hopeful that this campaign will be successful in getting the word out about the importance of pedestrian safety and not walking distracted to high school students and others in this County.

By naming the initiative the “YOLO” campaign, MCDOT and MCPS hope to appeal to teenagers both through their schools and on social media. All campaign materials are labeled with the #YOLOwalksafe hashtag, encouraging students and members of the community to share the campaign on Twitter, Instagram and other social media outlets.

With the campaign’s creative ideas and social media outreach, Benz hopes students will become more aware of the major problems created by distracted walking. Benz acknowledges the complexity of the issue and understands that it is not easy to resolve, but she believes that the “YOLO”  campaign is a step in the right direction.

“I think it’s really valuable,” Benz said. “The posters and all the other things are a great beginning and they’ll help raise visual awareness. Putting everything into practice is difficult because it’s harder with students who have already set patterns that are unsafe, but we’re not giving up.”