Distracted pedestrians and drivers, listen up. Seneca Valley High, along with Montgomery County Police, want you to put down the cell phone, take the earbuds out and pay attention—or else.
Beginning Tuesday, April 23, the school and the force will complete the second phase of a program developed to prevent pedestrian fatalities near the high school. Spurred by the death of Seneca Valley High sophomore Christina Morris-Ward, 15, who was struck by a car while crossing Germantown Road last October, school officials rallied public safety leaders to educate and enforce strategies to keep walkers safe.
Last week, teachers and parents worked the streets to educate pedestrians and drivers about how common distractions—namely cell phones and all of their apps—are harmful when drivers and walkers share the road. This week, the enforcement stage of the program begins, according to Capt. Thomas Didone, head of Montgomery County police’s traffic division.
Didone said the next two weeks will be “saturated enforcement around the school to ensure that drivers and pedestrians adhere to the law.” Pedestrians and drivers may be ticketed for offenses that could include crossing against the light or texting while driving.
On the police side, it’s part of a larger campaign for law enforcement across the Washington region called Street Smart. Officers will be stationed across the county in places where lots of pedestrian incidents occur, like Rockville, Germantown, Bethesda, Silver Spring and Wheaton, Didone said.
At the high school, Morris-Ward’s mother, Gwendolyn Ward, has gotten involved with school officials to prevent more deaths. She participates in a public service announcement that Seneca Valley students created, recounting the events that led to her daughter’s death.
Didone said Morris-Ward was wearing headphones when she crossed the street against the traffic signal, something that he said is increasingly common among pedestrians.
“Distracted crossing and distracted pedestrian crossing is up,” Didone told Patch. “We're seeing many, many more instances where pedestrians are not aware of their surroundings.
"That’s just an evolution of the issue with cell phones—they're taking over more and more of our attention,” he continued.
In 2012, six pedestrians were struck by cars and killed, said Police Chief J. Thomas Manger in the Seneca Valley PSA. The previous two years saw 11 and 14 people die after being hit by cars, Manger said.
“That clearly is the biggest concern we have and the biggest safety issue we have to address,” Manger said in the PSA.
In 2013, five pedestrians and one bicyclist were fatally struck by cars.