Speed plays a critical role in pedestrian crashes.
Delaware Office of Highway Safety planned to demonstrate how a relatively small increase in speed can have deadly results during an April 30 presentation on Hebron Road in Rehoboth Beach.
But bad weather forced a change in plans. Attendees instead moved inside Epworth United Methodist Church and watched a video of a demonstration held the day before in New Castle County.
Viewers watched as a vehicle approached a crash dummy representing a 10-year-old boy. At 25 mph, the vehicle had time to stop. But at 35 mph, the stopping distance increased by 20 feet. The dummy was hit with force.
“Speed is one factor that is almost always the difference between life and death when it comes to pedestrian crashes,” said Jana Simpler, director of the Delaware Office of Highway Safety, which is coordinating the Walk Smart campaign with the Delaware Department of Transportation. “We are committed toward zero deaths.”
“The lesson here is clear,” said Adam Weiser, DelDOT safety programs manager. “If a pedestrian is struck by a car going 25 mph or slower, the odds of survival are good. At speeds above 35 mph, the impact is likely to be fatal.”
The campaign kicked off in May, the month when the highest number of pedestrian crashes occurred in Delaware.
Dr. Paul Cowan, a Beebe Healthcare emergency department physician, said in 2013, the hospital treated 11 people with significant trauma related to pedestrian crashes.
“It's the last step you never get back,” he said. “If you are hit by a car with speed, you are never the same again. It's life-altering. You are just about guaranteed some sort of disability.”
He said the vast majority of patients were adults. The extent of the injuries depends on the age of the victim and the type of vehicle.
Beebe Healthcare is a partner in the Walk Smart campaign.
Twenty-six percent of the state's 101 motor vehicle fatalities in 2013 were pedestrians. Simpler said that number is 12 percent higher than the national average of 14 percent.
Contributing to that statistic is a spike in pedestrian crashes in the Cape Region. Eight fatalities occurred in Sussex County; the majority were along the Route 1 corridor in coastal Sussex.
Weiser said state transportation officials are at a loss to pinpoint the exact cause for the increase in pedestrian crashes in Sussex County. There were 20 pedestrian-related crashes along Route 1 from Lewes to Fenwick Island from 2011 to 2013.
Several crashes occurred at night in areas without lighting or crosswalks. DelDOT has plans to add more crosswalks, increase lighting and add sidewalks from Five Points to Rehoboth Avenue along Route 1 in a project scheduled to begin this fall.
In 2013, 75 percent of all fatal pedestrian-related crashes occurred in New Castle County.
Simper said the Office of Highway Safety provides grants to area police departments to cover overtime costs for officers who participate in the program providing enforcement and education.
Delaware State Police will emphasize awareness of pedestrian laws as well as targeted enforcement.
“Troopers will continue to emphasize and bring awareness that pedestrian crashes often result in deadly consequences,” said Sgt. Paul Shavack, Delaware State Police director of public information. “The key to stopping these predictable and preventable incidents from occurring is through education and targeted enforcement for the safety of both pedestrians and motorists."
In addition to ad campaigns and pedestrian safety checkpoints, Simpler said the Office of Highway Safety will be partnering this summer with Ocean City, Md., to promote the Happy Crab Campaign in the beach area to stress the importance of using crosswalks.