High-Visibility Enforcement at Pedestrian Crossings
The purpose of enforcement strategies is to increase compliance with the traffic laws that are most likely to improve the safety of pedestrians in areas where crashes are happening or most likely to happen due to increased pedestrian and motorist exposure. While this section focuses on enforcement of driver and pedestrian behavior at pedestrian crossings, it is reasonable to assume that enforcement of other risky driving behaviors such as speed, distraction, impairment, red-light running, etc., improve the safety of people walking.
Before designing and implementing a pedestrian safety enforcement campaign, agencies should engage local stakeholders to help determine if law enforcement offers an appropriate intervention for the safety problems of concern. An increasing body of research has demonstrated the racial disparities in policing, specifically related to traffic stops (Baumgartner et al., 2018; Epp et al., 2017; Pierson et al., 2020). For example, analysis of more than 100 million traffic stops in the United States showed that Black motorists were stopped 40% more frequently than white drivers (Pierson et al., 2020).
Traffic enforcement is most effective when it is highly visible and publicized, to reinforce the required behavior and to raise the expectation that failure to comply may result in legal consequences. Enforcement campaigns should be aimed at drivers and pedestrians, starting with the communications and outreach efforts that announce, describe, and publicize the traffic safety campaign through community meetings, media coverage, social media, mass emails, and signage (NHTSA, 2014). Many pedestrian safety enforcement efforts are crosswalk operations that use plainclothes officers as pedestrians crossing the street, typically with one or two uniformed officers observing for violations and another giving warnings or writing citations.
A coordinated program of targeted enforcement should involve a range of support activities, such as communications and outreach to notify the public of the campaign; training law enforcement officers on enforcement procedures and pedestrian and crosswalk laws; and educating prosecutors and judges so they understand the purposes of the campaign and are prepared for the increase in citations (NHTSA, 2014). Training for prosecutors and judges can help build the case for enforcement of traffic laws and planned enforcement operations with appropriate follow-up throughout the judicial system. A pilot study in North Carolina found that once more stringent prosecution was publicized, the court case load did not increase as feared, as more drivers paid their citations automatically (Hunter et al., 2001).
It is important to teach law enforcement personnel the basics of pedestrian safety and targeted enforcement techniques. In an early phase of North Carolina’s Watch for Me NC program, an evaluation of a one-day workshop for 118 officers found that participating officers scored 24% higher on knowledge surveys about pedestrians and driver yielding laws after taking the workshop (Sandt, LaJeunesse, et al., 2015). Only 14% of participating officers reported having taken a pedestrian and bicycle law course before. States such as Texas, New York, and Florida are offering quick training and resources in the form of videos that can be shown during roll-call meetings. These videos are typically accessible through YouTube.
- NHTSA’s Pedestrian Safety Enforcement Operations: How-To Guide (2014b) offers law enforcement agencies a resource for setting up staged crosswalk enforcement operations.
- The Role of Law Enforcement in Supporting Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety: An Idea Book (2020) shares examples and ideas of how law enforcement can address pedestrian and bicyclist safety including real-world examples and resources.
The use of HVE at pedestrian crossing is low. Enforcement is largely a local option, and often is integrated into other police duties, so special enforcement efforts are difficult to isolate and track. Several localities (including Chicago; Detroit; Miami; Pinellas County, Florida; and Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina) and States such as New Jersey and New Mexico have implemented training for law enforcement officers and conducted targeted enforcement efforts for pedestrian safety.
Crash-based studies of pedestrian safety enforcement operations are rare. Most studies evaluate changes in the behavior that the enforcement campaign was designed to deter/modify. The Watch for Me NC education and enforcement program, which is described in more detail under the countermeasure “Pedestrian Safety Zones,” conducted initial evaluations using motorist yielding as the measure of effectiveness (Sandt, Marshall, et al., 2016), while a later evaluation analyzed pedestrian crashes in the 29 North Carolina counties with active programs. It is important to note that WFMNC implementation varied within and across counties. The crash-based analysis found a statistically significant 12.8% reduction in pedestrian crashes along with a 21.7% reduction in nighttime crashes and a 9.5% reduction in the “failed to yield” crash type (Saleem et al., 2018).
In Gainesville, Florida, a before/after study with a comparison group examined the effects of sustained, enhanced HVE of motorist yielding to pedestrians, combined with publicity and other community outreach (e.g., flyers given to stopped drivers, information sent home with school children, social norming feedback signs, and earned and paid media) (Van Houten, Malenfant, Blomberg, et al., 2013; Van Houten, Malenfant, Huitema, & Blomberg, 2013). Driver yielding rose throughout the one-year study period, which included four, 2-week waves of enforcement, along with the other activities. Four of the six enforcement sites observed significant increases in yielding at the end of the period with a fifth experiencing a positive trend. The one location that did not observe an increase was on a university campus with an already high baseline rate of yielding. Yielding also increased at the comparison sites, although not by the same degree. Driver awareness of the enforcement, especially awareness of the feedback signs that displayed site-specific and citywide yielding averages, also increased to a high level (from 13% at baseline to 78% at the end of the year). A follow up study 4 years after the HVE program ended found that yielding behavior actually increased at both the enforcement (8% increase) and comparison sites (20% increase) after the program ceased (Van Houten et al., 2017). The study authors hypothesize that the intervention, especially the social norming component, created a “tipping point” for positive motorist behavior whereby a small change tipped the balance of the system and resulted in widespread change. Earlier, Van Houten and Malenfant (2004) had found more modest increases in driver yielding to pedestrians in response to a single wave of targeted police enforcement at crosswalks on two corridors in Miami Beach, Florida. A study attempting to replicate the Gainesville findings in Ann Arbor, Michigan, also observed more substantial improvements at treatment sites than at generalization sites in the short-term, although a long-term follow-up is still needed (Van Houten et al., 2018).
Researchers also adopted a social norming approach in addition to HVE, education, and some low-cost engineering improvements during an 18-month effort in St. Paul, Minnesota (Morris et al., 2019). Weekly average yielding at treatment sites grew from as low as 26% in the baseline period to 78% during the final phase, while generalization sites grew from 31% to 61%. Researchers also noted a decrease in threat passes at both site types, which was a secondary measure of effectiveness for the program.
Law enforcement officials in Detroit, Michigan, implemented two pedestrian-oriented enforcement campaigns at Wayne State University to educate the campus community on proper use of crosswalks and the importance of obeying signals through the issuance of warnings (Savolainen et al., 2011). The study saw pedestrian violations (walking outside the crosswalk or against the signal) reduced from 17% to 27% immediately after the campaign, with sustained reductions of from 8% to 10% several weeks after active enforcement ceased. Pedestrian compliance was also associated with the presence, quality, and location of pedestrian facilities (including pedestrian signals, bus stops, crosswalks, and convenient crossing opportunities).
The cost of the enforcement is a direct function of the size of the effort, the amount of enforcement, and associated supplies, ranging from vehicle operating costs to equipment such as speed measurement devices or alcohol test machines. If overtime is used to increase enforcement, costs would be higher. Free or low-cost training of enforcement officers on data driven focused efforts at the local level, can enhance both the cost and time spent to educate and enforce those laws and pedestrian and motorist behaviors most likely to influence serious injury or fatalities to pedestrians.
Time to implement:
The time to implement HVE at pedestrian crossings is short. However, special training to ensure safe and consistent crosswalk enforcement operations may be needed, and periodic data analysis conducted to ensure potential high crash locations are targeted for safety behaviors that influence the safety of pedestrians, including speed and distraction. Developing a plan that coordinates law changes, environmental changes, or support communications and outreach with enforcement activities will take longer.