Pedestrian safety campaign leads to traffic stops

Staff photo by Fritz Busch New Ulm Bicycle Group member George Glotzbach, left, and retired Minnesota State Trooper Scott McConkey participate in the Stop For Me Crosswalk Enforcement operation by walking across Center Street from Jefferson Street Monday.

NEW ULM — A safety campaign to encourage motorists and pedestrians to move safely through the community got underway in New Ulm Monday.

New Ulm Police, the Brown County Sheriff’s Department and South Central Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths regional partners including the Heart of New Ulm and Allina Health announced the program to improve pedestrian safety.

The purpose of the operation is to reduce the number of pedestrians struck by vehicles in crosswalks and reduce the severity of crashes involving pedestrians by educating the public, enforcing statutes, and partnering with citizen volunteers and media.

“We would like everyone to take a moment and talk about driver and pedestrian safety with their loved ones. It’s important to keep everyone safe,” said Heart of New Ulm and New Ulm Medical Center Community Health Programs Coordinator Jen Maurer.

“From distractions to motorists that are in a hurry, drivers are putting pedestrian’s lives at risk,” said Brown County Sheriff Jason Seidl. “Drivers face many distractions behind the wheel. It’s a myth to think we can multi-task while behind the wheel. Using cell phones including hands-free delays a driver’s reaction time as much as having a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content.”

“No one intends to seriously injure or kill someone while driving distracted,” Seidl said. “Good intentions don’t prevent crashes. Smart choices do. To keep everyone safe, motorists must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, intersections and crossing signals and never pass or drive around a vehicle stopped for people crossing.”

Seidl said too many pedestrians cross against signals or at unsafe locations, risking their own lives as they cross streets.

New Ulm Police Chief Dave Borchert said last year, 45 pedestrians died in Minnesota crashes, including two deaths in New Ulm. Over the last five years, 203 pedestrians were killed on roads in Minnesota.

He urged pedestrians to push cross walk buttons at intersections and avoid shortcuts near marked crosswalks.

“Make eye contact with drivers, making sure they see you,” Borchert said. “Never assume drivers see you. Wear bright clothing during the day and use a flashlight or wear reflective material at night. If a sidewalk or shoulder is available, walk facing traffic.”

Retired Minnesota State Trooper Scott McConkey, now the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety Southern Minnesota Law Enforcement Liaison, said he was honored to be part of the program.

“There are talkers and there are doers. These people here today are doers,” McConkey said. “This program started only a little over a month ago by talking. A coalition of law enforcement, groups and concerned citizens of this community with a concern for the quality of living here,” McConkey said. “I think this is huge. They touch a topic that is very close to all our hearts — life, injury and death.”

McConkey thanked everyone for taking part in the program.

Statistics showed that pedestrians are 10 times more likely to die in a collision with a car than drivers or passengers are likely to die in a two-vehicle crash.

Volunteers and law enforcement put the pedestrian safety program to use on Center Street, west of the Brown County Law Enforcement Center. A number of volunteers started to walk across Center Street as vehicles approached.

In the first 20 minutes of the two-hour exercise, 17 motorists were stopped after they failed to yield to pedestrians in the street. Chief Borchert said he left it up to the officer’s discretion on whether or not to issue traffic tickets to drivers.

According to Minnesota Law 169.21, drivers must come to a complete stop for pedestrians at marked crosswalks or at intersections with no marked crosswalks.

Drivers must not overtake and pass a vehicle stopped for a person at or in a crosswalk and follow directions from a school crossing guard. Violators can be arrested within four hours of the offense and are guilty of a misdemeanor. Second or subsequent violations within one year result in a gross misdemeanor charge.

The South Central Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths program brings area law enforcement, public health educators, engineers and emergency medical and trauma services together to reduce the number of traffic fatalities and severe injuries to zero in south central Minnesota.

The 13-county area includes Blue Earth, Brown, Cottonwood, Faribault, Jackson, LeSueur, Martin, Nicollet, Nobles, Rock, Sibley, Waseca and Watonwan counties.

For more information, visit www.minnesotatzd.org/

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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