BY JULIE FRITZ
Transportation safety is so important. But often when we think about transportation safety, our minds go to cars and trucks. And yes, that is the largest part of how people get from one place to another, but not everyone has that option, and some people enjoy walking or biking to incorporate a healthy activity into their daily commute. It is also a great option for children to use to get to and from school. Unfortunately, there are a lot of safety concerns related to biking or walking in North Carolina. The good news is that the NCDOT has launched a statewide campaign, called Watch For Me NC, as a way to draw attention to these concerns and make bicyclists and pedestrians safer.
According to the Watch For Me NC website, every year over 3,000 pedestrians and 850 bicyclists are involved in accidents with vehicles in North Carolina. It also states that 15% of traffic fatalities that occur on North Carolina roads are made up of bicyclists and pedestrians. These statistics highlight the fact that North Carolina is one of the most unsafe states for walking and bicycling. The NCDOT decided it was time for them to make it clear that we are all responsible for keeping pedestrians and bicyclists safe, in addition to making our roads safe.
This program was started in 2012 and at that time was piloted in Wake, Orange, and Durham counties. Due to its initial success, they have been able to continue to grow the program. Each year NCDOT invites communities across the state to partner with this initiative. In 2018, the program had grown from the three pilot counties to 28 community partners statewide. When a community chooses to become a partner, they receive additional materials and training from NCDOT. It becomes a true partnership, where the program works to make sure the community is able to have the tools and training to successfully implement the program.
The Watch For Me NC program has two very important directives. The first focus is to educate bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers. The education component makes a slew of resources available to the public. Their website includes links to materials from PSAs to bumper stickers and more. There is also a link to statistics and frequently asked questions that relate to bicyclist and pedestrian safety. NCDOT encourages all communities to utilize these resources, whether they partner with Watch For Me NC or not, to help encourage bicycle and pedestrian safety.
The second focus is statewide enforcement effort by local police agencies. Their high visibility enforcement efforts are led on a local level. The program will work with area police departments to help them reduce traffic safety violations. They also list all the laws related to bicycle and pedestrian safety on their website. You can see the laws listed as they relate to driver laws, pedestrian laws, and bicyclist laws. Informing the public of the laws also helps local law enforcement reduce traffic safety violations. Using this two-fold strategy of education and an enforcement effort creates the most successful program possible.
The website for Watch For Me NC is very informative. You can find so much information about the program, including crash statistics and safety resources. All the program materials are accessible from the website, too. You will also find links to resources and programs that are aimed at increasing transportation safety around schools, including Active Routes to School, SafeKids NC, Let’s Go NC and more.
If you would like more information about Watch For Me NC, you can visit their website at watchformenc.org. You will be able to access all their materials, as well as find information on how to help bring this program to your community.