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Near miss prompts action by Halifax Police Department

A leisurely Sunday afternoon walk in the Town of Halifax last spring almost turned deadly for a Halifax woman and her friends.

Halifax resident Ruth Rowles and a few friends were walking in downtown Halifax last March when a speeding car almost ran them over as they crossed the street.

“We started across the crosswalk, and the car coming south stopped for us, and the car coming north just tears right through just as we were getting ready to step across, and we had to stop real quick. We know he could see three people and a stopped car, so that sort of unnerved us, and we started to fuss about the people who didn’t stop at the crosswalks,” Rowles said.

Then the same thing happened when she and her friends decided to walk back across the street.

Rowles had made sure to use the cross walk to cross the street, but this particular vehicle failed to yield to her and the others who were crossing the street.

Two similar incidents on one quiet Sunday afternoon did it for Rowles.

The next day she went to town hall where she shared her concerns with Halifax Police Chief Kevin Lands and Town Manager Carl Espy.

 She said her main concern involved drivers not yielding to pedestrians at crosswalks, and pedestrians not using crosswalks to cross the street.

At that time Espy said he had been trying to get signs put up so people could better see the crosswalks.

Rowles suggested the town start fining people in violation of proper crosswalk procedures.

“If you touch people where their pocketbook is, they pay attention,” Rowles said.

This has been an issue Rowles has felt strongly about for some time.

As far back as two decades ago, the Halifax resident said she wrote a letter to the editor voicing her concerns about crosswalk safety, and before she could deliver the letter, a woman was killed in Halifax while crossing the street.

“This is the only town I know that doesn’t enforce the crosswalks, and I have been concerned about it for a very long time. So what that Sunday did was really bring it to my attention. Somebody is going to get hurt badly or killed,” she said.

Her concerns did not fall on deaf ears.

Rowles’ persistence prompted Halifax Police to launch a crosswalk safety initiative campaign to raise awareness of crosswalk safety for both pedestrians and the driving public.

“We will be watching the crosswalks to observe violations and will be enforcing the rules of crosswalk safety on those who violate them. This campaign will not only focus on the motorists who do not stop for pedestrians as they are in the crosswalks, but also the pedestrians who choose not to cross the street within a designated marked crosswalk,” Lands said.

The police chief said the code of Virginia states “the driver of any vehicle on a highway shall yield the right of way to any pedestrian crossing such highway at any clearly marked crosswalk whether at mid-block or at the end of any block. No pedestrian shall enter or cross an intersection in disregard of approaching traffic.”

“We want to stress to pedestrians who are crossing in a crosswalk that they bear equal responsibility in their safety as the motorist approaches them,” Lands said.

Important things for pedestrians to remember are to maintain physical contact with children as they are not always safety minded. If in a group, cross as a group. Always look left, then right, then left again before stepping out. And always cross the street in a designated marked crosswalk and only cross when safe, Lands said.

The top ways pedestrians get hurt are by darting out from between parked cars, walking along the edge of the road, crossing a multi-lane street, crossing in front of a turning vehicle, crossing behind a vehicle that is backing up, trying to beat oncoming traffic at an intersection and crossing in front of a stopped bus, the police chief added.

 During the past five reporting years, 1,511 pedestrians were injured in motor vehicle crashes, according to the Virginia DMV. 

In the same reporting period, 82 pedestrians were killed in a year as a result of motor vehicle collisions. Most of the injuries occurred involving children under 15 and adults over 20.

“We also want to stress to motorists who are driving within the Town of Halifax that we have several crosswalks where pedestrians are crossing the street, and we ask them to be vigilant and aware as   they drive through,” Lands said.

The police chief wants motorists to remember to pay attention as they approach a crosswalk, be aware that children may dart out without notice, be aware of the elderly and pedestrians with disabilities and give them more time to cross. Always stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk and don’t slam on brakes.  

“We ask that we all work together to ensure the safety of both pedestrians and motorists as you visit the businesses of the Town of Halifax, and if there are any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us,” Lands said.