Senate Transportation Committee: Subcommittee Studying Pedestrian Safety

June 18, 2001, Richmond

In opening remarks, Senator Whipple explained that the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee had established the present study subcommittee at her request, for the purpose of reviewing Virginia's pedestrian laws and making recommendations to the General Assembly for the simplification and clarification of those laws, in the hope that doing so would reduce the number of pedestrians killed and injured in motor vehicle accidents in the Commonwealth.


Following these remarks, the subcommittee was briefed on techniques for improving pedestrian safety by a senior transportation engineer with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. He said there are basically four ways to improve pedestrian safety: better transportation planning, better traffic engineering, better transportation facility operation, and better traffic law enforcement. Specifically, he recommended:

  • the establishment (and enforcement) of reduced speed zones in residential neighborhoods,
  • the use of various "traffic calming" techniques,
  • the construction and use of grade-separated highway crossings and "safety islands" for pedestrians,
  • installation of various forms of barriers and fences to separate pedestrians from vehicles,
  • improvement of street lighting,
  • retiming traffic light signals and pedestrian walk signals to give pedestrians a three-second head start at busy intersections,
  • prohibition of "right-turn-on-red" during hours of heavy pedestrian traffic,
  • replacement of traffic lights at certain intersections with "four-way stops," and
  • replacement of some conventional three-way and four-way intersections with modern roundabouts.

The engineer also endorsed use of "photo enforcement" of speed limits and expanded use of "photo red" enforcement of traffic light signals. Appropriate use of these techniques, he felt, is "as close as we can come to a ‘vaccine'" against pedestrian deaths and injuries.

A planner with the Arlington County Department of Public Works, told the subcommittee about Arlington's "4E program" for pedestrian safety, emphasizing engineering, education, enforcement, and encouragement. He also pointed out that the county was particularly focusing on safety of school-age pedestrians through its Safe Routes to School Program. This program, he explained, had the twin goals of getting more children to walk to school (to save parents time, promote cleaner air through reductions in automobile use, and promote healthful exercise) and providing sidewalks, pedestrian trails, and other facilities that provided for separation of pedestrians from highway traffic. Senator Whipple wondered whether it might be possible to set aside a portion of highway construction funds for local pedestrian programs such as Safe Routes to School in localities across Virginia.

The chairman of the Arlington County Transportation Commission and a member of the County's Pedestrian Advisory Committee asked to address the subcommittee, not as an expert, but as the parent of young children. He suggested that the fact that 40 percent of traffic fatalities in Arlington are pedestrians should be sufficient evidence of the need to target specific highway construction resources to projects aimed at improving pedestrian safety. Specifically, he urged the elimination of vehicle turning lanes at highway intersections. Traffic engineers know what needs to be done, he concluded, what is needed is the money with which to do it.

Other Comments

Following these three presentations, representatives of other groups and agencies with an interest in the general issue of pedestrian safety made brief statements:

  • Representatives of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles offered to assist the subcommittee in its deliberations and pointed out that the department was in the process of redesigning the Virginia motor vehicle accident report form in order to solicit more and better information on accidents where pedestrians are involved.
  • The Virginia Trial Lawyers Association urged the subcommittee to take into consideration not only Virginia's statutes relating narrowly to pedestrians and pedestrian safety. Such an approach could lead to erroneous conclusions by failing to take into account relevant portions of the common law and case law.
  • The insurance industry representative warned the subcommittee to be cautious about changing the laws that bear or might bear on the rights of plaintiffs in civil trials for damages caused in highway accidents where pedestrians are involved.
  • An assistant traffic engineer with the Virginia Department of Transportation drew the subcommittee's attention to the department's efforts to increase the number of highway signs warning motorists to look out for pedestrians crossing the highway and to increase the visibility of these signs through the use of a fluorescent green color. He also explained that the department is working on a pilot project in Northern Virginia involving audible pedestrian signals for the hearing impaired and reminded the members that the department already has a standing committee of its own that focuses on issues of bicycle and pedestrian safety.
  • The Virginia School Boards Association urged the subcommittee make recommendations aimed at reducing the frequency with which motorists illegally pass stopped school buses.


The meeting concluded with a brief discussion about what the subcommittee might include in its agendas for future meetings. The items mentioned included a review of relevant developments in other states; further consideration of ways to reduce illegal passing of stopped school buses; additional information on VDOT's various "traffic calming" techniques; ways to facilitate use of highway construction money for pedestrian safety, particularly the construction of sidewalks; the desirability of clarifying Virginia's pedestrian laws without making substantive changes; providing for the placement of "yield to pedestrian" highway signs at unmarked crosswalks; and a briefing on DMV's pedestrian project for Northern Virginia.

The Honorable Mary Margaret Whipple, Chair
Legislative Services contact: Alan B. Wambold


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