WEST JORDAN — Utah drivers, can you turn right without looking for pedestrians if you have a green light?
Are crosswalks only found in marked intersections?
As part of their Zero Fatalities initiative, the Utah Department of Transportation and the Utah Department of Public Safety unveiled a new pedestrian safety campaign Wednesday titled "Driver Myths" that looks to answer those kinds of questions.
The educational campaign is focused on dispelling commonly held misbeliefs about roadway and traffic laws. The myths are represented by mythical creatures, such as dragons and mermaids, an intentionally distinctive and seasonal stratagem.
"We're trying to reach a younger audience here as well. We're trying to be a little bit unique in our approach, and just trying to find different avenues to reach people and maybe make it a little more memorable for people," said John Gleason, public information officer for the Utah Department of Transportation.
The campaign's website lists six common driver myths:
- If you see them, you can stop in time.
- It's OK to pass a car that's stopped at a green light.
- Crosswalks only exist at painted intersections.
- Blind spots only exist on the interstate.
- Pedestrians are less likely to be out at night.
- Green means turn.
Organizers also included five pedestrian myths and urged pedestrians to wear bright or reflective clothing while walking near or on roadways, especially at night.
"This campaign is actually focused primarily on drivers and what drivers can do to make sure that pedestrians are safe, but it really is a shared responsibility," Gleason said. "We have to take the responsibility as both drivers and pedestrians to watch out for the other person."
The news conference that launched the campaign came days before Halloween and daylight saving time, both of which often lead to higher numbers of crashes involving pedestrians, according to Gleason.
"We do see a huge increase in pedestrian fatalities in the fall, especially October and November," he said. "That's because the weather's still nice enough that people get out. You have Halloween; you have daylight savings, which it gets darker earlier. So those are all contributing factors."
Falling back an hour means there's less daylight, worsening visibility on roadways.
"One of the myths is that pedestrian crashes don't happen as much at night, and looking at the past history … half of the pedestrian fatalities actually occur between 6 p.m. and midnight," Gleason said.
Fewer pedestrian crashes have occurred over the last three years, but Utah is still a long way from its ultimate goal of zero fatalities.
In 2019, there were 45 pedestrian-involved fatalities in Utah, and 20% of all fatalities on Utah roadways involved pedestrians.
"All those other worries we have, all these other distractions we have in our automobiles, it's time — especially this time of year, especially with the upcoming holiday — to focus on what matters," said Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Nick Street. "Make sure that you're paying attention 100% of the time when you're operating a motor vehicle, and be mindful, watch out for those pedestrians. They're not always going to be in designated walkways."
It's unclear how COVID-19 will affect the 2020 fall driving season, Gleason said, and the Utah Department of Transportation is continuing to look at the data for signs that could help forecast fatalities over the next few months.
"The pandemic, you know, it can work a few different ways. You can see more people out walking, more people out trying to get exercise, but there's also more people that are staying at home as well. So it's still a little early to see how that's going to play out. ... It's definitely something that we're looking at, and at this point, it hasn't really decreased or made a significant increase in the pedestrian deaths that we've seen."
The campaign will last through the end of the year, and the associated educational materials will be available long after that, Gleason said.