The start of the spring semester at Virginia Tech began with four crashes on campus.
Even though it was fewer crashes than had happened in January the past three years, there were more injured pedestrians.
Every year, the Tech Police Department distributes reports to their officers with an analysis of the traffic incidents of the year. The reports include the total numbers of accidents, the type of accidents and what areas have had the most incidents that year.
The Collegiate Times took a look at these police reports as well as trends around Virginia.
At approximately 9:00 a.m. on Jan. 30, the Blacksburg Police Department was called to investigate a traffic incident on Draper Street outside the Kent Street parking garage.
The incident involved a female driver crashing into a bicyclist. The driver was charged with failure to yield the right of way, and the bicyclist only suffered minor injuries.
Later that same day, at approximately 5:45 in the afternoon, another vehicle hit three students in a pedestrian crosswalk on West Campus Drive near the Harper Lot. According to the driver, the windows were fogged up, and they couldn’t see the students in the crosswalk. All of the students were released with minor injuries.
For 2012, the police department reported a total of 66 accidents on campus. Fourteen of the accidents involved bicyclists — some of which did not involve an additional vehicle — and six involved pedestrians.
“Pedestrians and bikes are our two high risk activities in terms of traffic,” said Lieutenant Deborah Morgan with Tech Police.
Over the past three years, there has been an average of 65 accidents on campus every year. Ten percent of the accidents involve pedestrians and 24 percent involve bicycles.
“I always make sure I follow all of the rules when biking, even the ones that most people aren’t aware of,” said Nadia Doutcheva, a freshman in Industrial Systems Engineering.
The number of accidents decrease during the summer months and spike during the fall and spring semester months, especially at the beginning of fall semester.
“We work traffic enforcement a lot — it hasn’t changed because we do it often," Morgan said. "We do target (certain areas), and that information goes out monthly to the officers, and that does modify our enforcement based on where, historically, we’ve had the highest pedestrian, bike or vehicle crashes.”
Despite the increase during the fall and spring semesters, there has been an average of five accidents per month for the past three years.
“The speed limit on the Drillfield is 15 for a reason — because of the number of pedestrians," Morgan said. "We have so much that goes on in such a tight area of campus, and it all contributes to traffic crashes in one way or another.”
Last October, there were a record number of incidents in one month with a total of 11 accidents, two of which were pedestrians and five of which were bicyclists.
“There's a direct relationship between the number of cars on the road and the number of accidents that occur, so it's no surprise that there's an increase during the semester," said John Sangster, a graduate student in Civil Engineering who did a TedX talk on traffic — his studies are focused in traffic engineering. "However, there's usually more going on than one simple factor.”
In 2012, the most accidents occurred on West Campus Drive with 12 accidents out of the total 66 accidents on campus. West Campus Drive was also listed as the top crash location for both bicyclists and pedestrians with three and two accidents respectfully. Other hot spots from 2011 and 2012 include Washington Street, Southgate Drive and Drillfield Drive.
“I always stop at crosswalks and for people crossing the road," said Angelica Melara, a junior Animal Science major. "I have to make sure that people aren’t crossing because some walk out into the middle of the road and some wait.”
Virginia as a whole
According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, there were a total of 120,513 crashes in Virginia in 2011. Overall, there were 1,787 accidents in Virginia that involved pedestrians and 75 were fatal. Of the 1,787 pedestrians, 190 were between the ages of 17 and 20.
Accidents with young drivers made up about 20 percent of the accidents in 2011. Statistics from the DMV show that the three most common causes of accidents for young drivers is following too close, failure to yield and speeding.
According to Sangster’s Tedx Talk called “Why Do We Live With Traffic?” motor vehicle fatalities are the leading cause of death in people ages 15-44.
On a college campus, where students casually — and sometimes dangerously — cross the street, the question becomes, whose fault is it?
“Every incident is a little different," Morgan said. "You can’t make a generalization one way or the other. What we always tell people is that the vehicle has to look. The driver of the vehicle is responsible for looking while they're driving their car — not on the cell phone, not texting — looking at where they're driving.”
According to Virginia law, vehicles must yield the right-of-way to pedestrian crossings — however, law also says that no pedestrians shall enter or cross an intersection in disregard of approaching traffic.
“I usually feel safe when I’m walking around campus,” said Vicki Tran, sophomore Business Information Technology major. “Generally, I watch out for myself and watch out for the people around me. Most of the time I try and cross the street in a group of people because you're less likely to get hit when you’re in a group of people.”
Pedestrians and Bikers
In regards to the law, pedestrians also have responsibility. Pedestrians shall not carelessly or maliciously interfere with the orderly passage of vehicles — in other words, no jaywalking.
“The same responsibility goes to a pedestrian — they have to look before they step out in the road," Morgan said. "Whether they think the vehicle should stop or not, if a vehicle is traveling at 25 miles per hour and you step out in front of the vehicle, the vehicle may not be able to stop.”
Virginia is one of five states that observe the “Pure Contributory Negligence” rule, meaning that if a pedestrian is found to be responsible in any way for the accident, then they cannot claim damages.
“It is the responsibility of both the driver and the pedestrian to make sure their actions are safe. Oftentimes it’s a mix. I don’t think it would be fair to blame one or the other,” Morgan said.
Junior mechanical engineering major Garrett Dawson has been driving on campus regularly for the past two years and has come close to having accidents on campus.
One night, while driving on Washington Street, he saw a bright light by the driver side front panel. A person dressed in all black had stepped in front of the car without looking and had jumped out of the way.
“Luckily, when he jumped, he raised his phone and that was the only thing I had seen,” Dawson explained. “I have had other instances, usually involving phones or people just walking out, but this one sticks out, not only because of how close it was, but because of how I was clearly paying attention to see a phone.”
For many students, driving around campus is a big adjustment after driving at home.
“(Coming from) a city, cars go first,” said Sarah Gonzales, a sophomore Industrial Systems Engineering major. “When you come to campus, you have to make sure pedestrians go first. I’m really cautious about that. Even though it’s frustrating, I remind myself I’m a pedestrian too.”
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