Town hopes jaywalking enforcement will curb pedestrian accidents

FRONT ROYAL –  The town has spent about $100,000 upgrading crosswalks to modern standards in the last year. Now, officials would like citizens to use those crosswalks. 

As part of  the S.T.O.P.S. – Smart Towns Observe Pedestrian Safety – initiative, the town may add a jaywalking ordinance to its code. The S.T.O.P.S. program was launched after Council member William Sealock voiced concern over the number of pedestrians being struck by vehicles.

Chief of Police Kahle Magalis said there were three pedestrian traffic incidents in 2013; five in 2014; 10 in 2015; nine in 2016; and 12 in 2017.  He said four pedestrian died between 2013 and March 2018, three of whom did not use crosswalks. 

He said a significant number of those incidents, and all of the fatalities, occurred on Shenandoah Avenue or near the intersection of Commerce Avenue and South Street. While the town hopes to add a $65,000 crossing at Shenandoah Avenue, officials are seeking other ways to curb jaywalking. 

Town Attorney Doug Napier said that although there is a state jaywalking statute that the police can enforce, he does not think most citizens are aware it is “a very minor crime.” He said that state statute is located in the motor vehicle code, something most people would not review. He said before the ordinance is enforced, adding it to the town code would be best. 

If the town adopts the state statute into its code, Napier said it stipulates that pedestrians cross only at intersections or clearly marked crosswalks. It also prohibits crossing the street diagonally.

He added that the town’s ordinance would likely classify jaywalking as a class four misdemeanor, which is punishable by a maximum $250 fine. He said the fine would be at the judge’s discretion and only approach the maximum amount for repeat offenders. He reminded citizens, however, that court costs could add on $100.

While reducing jaywalking is important, Magalis noted that a pedestrian died in a crosswalk, which he said illustrates just following the rules does not ensure safety. He said the S.T.O.P.S. campaign has focused on educating citizens, which includes relaying the importance of both drivers and pedestrians staying alert.

He added that pedestrians are most often struck in fall or winter months when days are shorter, most frequently during rush hour between 4 and 6 p.m. He said streetlights only illuminate so much of the road, and pedestrians should wear bright clothes or use flashlights at night. He added that it is never wise for a person to have their face “buried in a phone” when stepping off a curb.

While it is important for pedestrians to be alert, Sealock said it is also imperative for drivers to understand that a pedestrian has the right-of-way in a crosswalk. He added that drivers need to follow the 25 mile per hour speed limit when entering the town on Shenandoah Avenue. 

Magalis agreed and said speeding has always been an issue on that portion of the road. He added that the new bridge and widened roadway seems to invite more speeding, and police often monitor the area.

If the jaywalking ordinance is approved, Magalis said there will be a period in which police attempt to educate citizens on the rules before ticketing offenders. He added that police will not specifically seek out jaywalkers, but the code will be enforced as they happen across violations. 

Napier said before a jaywalking ordinance is passed, it will likely be the subject of an August Town Council public hearing.