Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The summary of what is known about pedestrian-vehicle crashes and resulting injuries and fatalities provides a very general overview. To understand your local pedestrian-vehicle crash problem, you must combine this general knowledge with specific facts describing your local conditions. Carefully analyzing your local problem will help you design an effective response strategy that fits your specific needs.

Stakeholders

In addition to criminal justice agencies, the following groups have an interest in the pedestrian injury and fatality problem, and you should consult them when gathering information about the problem and responding to it:

  • local government agencies (e.g., traffic engineering departments, transportation departments, planning departments, emergency medical services departments, medical examiners’ and coroners’ offices, public health departments):
    • such agencies could provide data for analyzing the problem and also help plan and implement responses;
    • these agencies can implement costly responses that go beyond the scope of local neighborhood or resident groups;
    • when approaching government agencies for help, however, it might be useful to suggest building a partnership of several organizations instead of asking a single agency to take sole responsibility for the problem and its solution:
  • hospitals that handle crash victims:
    • medical staff (i.e., doctors and nurses) often handle the aftermath of pedestrian injuries and fatalities making them useful advocates to implement responses in your community;
    • some medical staff are injury experts and do much in the area of prevention, in addition to the aftermath;
    • since medical staff are usually occupied with patients, it might be useful to contact hospital administrators for aid:
  • neighborhood safety groups:
    • these groups can use their local knowledge to identify the problem and potential contributing factors;
    • their knowledge could be especially useful to identify problems involving special factors that can be difficult to detect;
    • government and other agencies might also be more inclined to help plan and implement responses if approached by organized neighborhood safety groups:
  • neighborhood resident and business associations:
    • these groups can help guard against negative public reactions to responses that impose a cost on either pedestrians or drivers,
  • local schools:
    • schools are critical to developing and distributing pedestrian-safety education/awareness campaigns and information when children and teens are a high-risk group in your community,
  • organizations representing high-frequency walkers (e.g., joggers, speed walkers, dog walkers):
    • these organizations could provide input from several high-risk groups that help to developing responses,
  • high-frequency drivers (e.g., commuters, taxi drivers):
    • such drivers are likely familiar with travel routes and could help to identify problem locations and contributing factors,
  • public transportation authorities that run bus routes:
    • like high-frequency drivers, these authorities are also familiar with travel routes and could help to identify problem locations and contributing factors; and,
  • insurance companies:
    • since insurance companies have a financial stake in pedestrian-vehicle crashes, they might be apt to help develop and fund responses that prevent such crashes.

Asking the Right Questions

Ask the following questions to gain a better understanding of your community’s pedestrian injury and fatality problem. The answers to these questions will help you develop an effective response that reduces the frequency of pedestrian injuries and fatalities.

Incidents

  • How many pedestrian injuries and fatalities occur in your jurisdiction, community, or area of interest?
  • What percentage of pedestrian injuries and fatalities is the fault of pedestrians? Local data could show which factors listed earlier have been contributory causes.
  • What are the general circumstances surrounding pedestrian injuries and fatalities (e.g., were pedestrians/drivers intoxicated)? Again, local data could shed light on these circumstances.
  • How concerned is the community with the problem of pedestrian injuries and fatalities? This information could be useful for planning responses that involve community participation.
  • Does the problem cause traffic congestion or any other potentially harmful problems (e.g., traffic slowing at crash sites)?
  • How long has your community had problems with pedestrian injuries and fatalities? Do vehicle-vehicle crashes occur in areas of heavy foot traffic because drivers are trying to avoid hitting pedestrians?

Locations/Times

  • Where do pedestrian injuries and fatalities frequently occur in your community? Which particular blocks, intersections, or other areas?
  • In what types of areas do pedestrian injuries and fatalities frequently occur in (e.g., residential, commercial)?
  • Is there a certain community location where pedestrian injuries and fatalities repeatedly occur? For instance, perhaps your community has a popular business that is located midblock but its parking is across a large street.
  • When do pedestrian injuries and fatalities frequently occur (morning, midday, or evening; day of week; certain seasons)?

Victims

  • Who are the pedestrian victims? Are there noticeable demographic patterns among them (e.g., sex, occupation, age, or limited mobility)?
  • What are pedestrians doing before crashes occur (e.g., shopping, running, drinking)?
  • Are pedestrian victims mostly community residents or visitors from out of town?
  • Typically, how serious are the pedestrians’ injuries? For example, do injuries often require emergency medical care? Or are injuries often minor, requiring no medical care?
  • What pedestrian characteristics could have caused them to illegally enter or cross a road? For instance, were the victims drinking before entering the road?

Physical Characteristics

  • Do common physical conditions exist around crash sites? For instance, are there certain types of traffic signals or crosswalk designs associated with high-frequency crash sites?
  • Are your pedestrian crosswalks clearly identifiable to passing motorists as well as to pedestrians? If not, why?
  • Do signs or signals (or their absence) appear to contribute to the crashes? For instance, is a crossing signal’s timing interval problematic for some pedestrians, is the crossing device broken, or is there no crossing device at the intersection?
  • Are sidewalks crowded near problem locations? For instance, is there a popular attraction nearby, or are sidewalks too narrow?
  • Are certain sidewalks damaged or difficult to use near problem locations?
  • Does weather make walking difficult in your community? What season or type of weather is often associated with pedestrian-vehicle crashes?

Current and Previous Responses

  • Does your community currently have enforceable jaywalking laws?
  • If so, do police officers commonly enforce jaywalking laws? Also, how do officers handle jaywalking incidents (e.g., give verbal warnings, issue citations, or something else)? If police do not commonly enforce jaywalking laws, why not?
  • Do police place higher priority on enforcing pedestrian laws and safety after injuries and fatalities occur?
  • What is the typical investigation process for a pedestrian-vehicle crash? Do police typically involve other agencies in these investigations?
  • Does your agency have a special unit designed to handle pedestrian traffic enforcement?
  • Are local citizens educated on the harms related to unsafe pedestrian behavior? If so, how is that education conveyed?
  • Has your community redesigned or installed improved crossing devices?
  • How has your community dealt with pedestrian-vehicle crashes in the past? Which agencies were involved? What did these agencies do? How successful at preventing crashes were they?
  • Is pedestrian safety routinely considered when planning city streets and sidewalks?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. You should take all measures in both the target area and the surrounding area. For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the Problem-Solving Tools guide, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to pedestrian injuries and fatalities. These measures are divided into two groups: those that measure the impact on the problem (so-called outcome measures), and those that measure how well your agency implemented the responses (so-called process measures).

Impact on the Problem

  • Reduced number of pedestrian injuries and fatalities in your community,
  • reduced number of pedestrian injuries and fatalities at hotspots,
  • reduced calls for police service for pedestrian injuries and fatalities,
  • reduced seriousness of injuries (e.g., fewer deaths per crash, shorter hospital stays), and
  • reduced number of secondary crashes (e.g., vehicle-vehicle crashes caused by drivers avoiding pedestrians) associated with the problem.

Impact on Pedestrian and Driver Behavior

  • Increased pedestrian perception of risk,
  • increased pedestrian perception of crossing devices,
  • increased driver awareness of pedestrian right-of-way laws,
  • improved sidewalk access and mobility, and
  • compliance with pedestrian laws after any temporary responses (e.g., increased enforcement is removed).

Data, Information, and Analysis

Initially, your agency’s ability to reduce incidents of pedestrian injuries and fatalities depends on the data available for analysis. For instance, data are necessary to identify high-frequency pedestrian-vehicle crash locations where you should implement responses or to show if alcohol was involved.

In addition, your agency must also determine which type of pedestrian behavior is problematic and which factors contribute to pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Several methods of data collection could help your agency analyze these variables.

First, your agency could systematically observe pedestrian walking behavior at identified problem areas. You could identify problem areas through pedestrian injury and fatality statistics. Systematic observation allows you to analyze variables such as street/sidewalk design, pedestrian signs/crossing devices, pedestrian paths, etc. To best understand the problem, the observers should not be uniformed police officers, or if they are, they should be hidden from the view of the people being watched. Otherwise, pedestrians might change their behavior and you will not know how they behave when the police are not present. You can use videotapes of these observations for detailed analysis and group discussion later. You can also use videotapes to help illustrate the problem to other stakeholders, educate the public, and potentially evaluate the response (by comparing before-and-after response video imagery of the same location at the same times).

Second, your agency should consider conducting surveys of pedestrians in the problem areas. You should design surveys to reveal why pedestrians choose certain behaviors at particular locations rather than other behaviors. You can also use them to learn about pedestrian perceptions of signs, signals, and other physical conditions. For an example of a police-pedestrian survey from the Madison (Wis.) Police Department, see http://www.ci.madison.wi.us/police/pedestrian.html.

Third, your agency could interview drivers and pedestrians involved in crashes. These data could provide detailed accounts of the situation leading up to the crash. In addition, police investigative reports can provide important information. Data from other first responders (i.e., fire and EMS) might also be useful, as well as information from emergency room physicians. Because of medical privacy legislation, medical staff cannot share much of this data. However, discussions with medical professionals can identify ways to ensure patient privacy and legal compliance, and still yield valuable information.

Fourth, your agency should compare streets with high rates of pedestrian injuries and fatalities to similar streets (in terms of traffic volume, pedestrian volume, location types, etc.) without many pedestrian injuries and fatalities. This will help reveal factors that are major contributors to the problem (factors found at problem locations but not at similar nonproblem locations).