Safety Officials Warn Pedestrians and Drivers to Keep Their Heads Up
By Parker Tillson
The Razorback Reporter
After a car collided with a bicyclist on campus and a pedestrian was hit by a car on College Avenue within a week in late September, Fayetteville police Sgt. Anthony Murphy warned drivers and pedestrians to stay off of their phones when driving and walking across the street.
The 95 crosswalks on campus can get crowded with the more than 27,600 students enrolled at the UofA. With so many people using the crosswalks, it’s important that pedestrians and drivers pay attention at all times, Murphy and others in safety enforcement said.
About 85% of college students own smartphones, according to a 2015 study by Pearson. Precisely 94% of teen drivers acknowledged the dangers of texting and driving, even though 35% of them admitted to doing it anyway, according to AAA.
“University initiatives can only promote safe practices,” UA Police Capt. Gary Crain said. “It is up to individuals to actually embrace and enact safe practices.”
Almost 3,200 people were killed by distracted drivers in 2017, according to the United States Department of Transportation. Cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million car crashes a year – one of every four car accidents in the United States – according to the National Safety Council.
“People need to take their personal safety into account and get off their phones,” Murphy said. “Whether they’re in the car or they’re walking.”
Drivers under age 20 have the highest incidence of distraction-related fatal crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A UA freshman student was hit by a car in February 2019 on Garland Avenue, outside of the Northwest Quad dorms. The 18-year-old sustained injuries that led to her death in the hospital two days later.
“After seeing that, that’s when I really knew that we had to do something,” said Lexi Robertson, ASG director of Student Safety. “We should always be proactive instead of reactive.”
The driver, a 17-year-old girl who was visiting the campus, was on her phone when she collided with the student. She received two citations: failure to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk, and use of a handheld device while driving.
“It’s just an awful thing,” Murphy said. “A young lady and a young person that was driving the car, it’s just a tragedy on both sides and totally preventable accidents every time.”
In Arkansas, it is illegal to use a cell phone in a school zone unless using hands-free technology or reporting an emergency and the driver must be older than 21. The same law should apply on college campuses, Robertson said.
“I think we should always be adamant about not being on our phones while we’re driving,” Robertson said. “And I will preach that until the end of days.”
Distracted driving is a deadly issue, but what may not be talked about as much is cell phone use while walking. Pedestrians who cross a busy street with their heads buried in a phone put themselves at the mercy of drivers.
“It’s like a perfect storm.” Murphy said. “Two things line up; the person walking isn’t paying attention and the person driving isn’t paying attention.”
All of the crosswalks at the UofA require drivers to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk. The pedestrians have the right-of-way, but students can sometimes abuse this privilege.
“I know on the UofA campus I see people walk out in front of cars all the time.” Murphy said. “They
don’t even wait for the car to stop. They just expect them to stop.”
The UofA participated in its 16th annual Crosswalk Safety Awareness Day on Oct. 9, when volunteers were stationed at busy crosswalks around campus to instill safe practices for drivers and pedestrians. Volunteers stressed that drivers should always stop for pedestrians, but pedestrians also should look up from their phones and make eye-contact with drivers before crossing the street.
Despite national efforts to encourage safe driving, almost 6,000 pedestrians were killed by cars in both 2016 and 2017, according to the Governors’ Highway Safety Association.
“We’re going to have accidents if we don’t make solid change happen,” Roberston said.