Zombies will be roaming the streets of Dewey Beach and Lewes over the next two weeks, but they are not the flesh-eating kind. They are part of a state campaign to improve pedestrian safety.
Since the start of the year, 13 pedestrians have been killed on Delaware's roads; five of them in Sussex County, all at night. State Office of Highway Safety officials say two pedestrians were walking while impaired, while a third was hit by an impaired driver. Three of the five Sussex deaths occurred along Route 1 in the Cape Region.
During 2012, 30 pedestrians were killed on state roadways, a signficant increase over the 19 pedestrian deaths recorded in 2011.
In response to pedestrian deaths, the Office of Highway Safety, Delaware Department of Transportation and Delaware State Police have joined forces to step up a pedestrian safety program, “Don't Join The Walking Dead,” capitalizing on the name of the hit TV show.
TIPS FROM THE OFFICE
• Cross only at designated crosswalks or intersections with signals or traffic signs. Look left, right and left again before crossing.
The campaign started as a pilot project in New Castle County over Memorial Day weekend. Officers patrolled high pedestrian crash locations and stopped pedestrians who were not crossing at marked crosswalks, walking a dusk and night without a flashlight or reflective item and walking impaired. The officers provided those pedestrians with safe walking information and a reflective string backpack.
While some people may find the name of the campaign insensitive, Jana Simpler, director of the state Office of Highway Safety, said she has heard no complaints. “It's a way to get our target audience to pay attention to the message. The zombie message resonates with them,” she said. “It's very specific geared toward to tough to reach audience.”
That target group is young people aged 13 to late 20s. “We want to get their attention. We are capitalizing on the interest in the zombie culture,” she said.
The agencies will team up with local partners to provide safety checkpoints, including two in the Cape Region: from 2 to 6 p.m. Friday, July 26, at the Starboard in Dewey Beach and from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3, at Citizen's Bank on Second Street in Lewes.
Traffic and safety organizations will be on hand to provide safe walking tips and information, including Beebe Medical Center, Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement, Sussex County Paramedics and police departments from Lewes and Dewey Beach.
“This is about education to offer important walking tips to spare lives. It's not an enforcement checkpoint at all,” Simpler said.
The number of pedestrian deaths is higher than at this time last year,” said Alison Kirk, state Office of Highway Safety spokeswoman. “This is particularly alarming because it's only mid-year with the fall season yet to come.”
Kirk said fall is a time when daylight hours get shorter and sun glare becomes an issue creating an increased risk for pedestrian and vehicle crashes.
Task force looking at Route 1
The rise in pedestrian deaths in the Cape Region has also caught the attention of the General Assembly.
Legislators passed House Resolution 22 July 1, just before wrapping up the 147th General Assembly. The resolution, sponsored by Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, creates a task force to study pedestrian safety on Route 1, from the Nassau Bridge in Lewes to the southern limits of Dewey Beach.
The task force will include state, county and municipal legislators and representatives from the Delaware Department of Transportation, Delaware State Police, Rehoboth Fire Company and Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce.
Schwartzkopf said the task force would begin by examining the details and circumstances surrounding recent pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and fatalities. Then, he said, the group can start to come up with possible solutions. The task force will submit recommendations for improvements to engineering, infrastructure, education and lighting by Jan. 31, 2014.