The Be Aware campaign raises awareness of pedestrian safety and for everyone to look at their surroundings in the Medical District.

Smart Growth America named Memphis the ninth-most dangerous metropolitan area for pedestrians in the U.S. last year. There were 34 fatal pedestrian accidents in Memphis in 2016, a stat the city is on pace to pass this year with more than 20 such deaths through the first half of 2017.

Unintentional pedestrian injuries are the fifth-leading cause of injury-related death in the U.S. for children ages 5 to 19, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. And with schools back in session across the region this month, it’s a good time to consider safety tips from Aleisha Curry, BSN, RN, trauma/burn coordinator of community outreach and injury prevention for the Regional One Health Elvis Presley Trauma Center.

Aleisha Curry, BSN, RN, trauma/burn coordinator of community outreach at Regional One Health.

“Whenever possible, cross the street at a designated crosswalk or intersection,” she said. “It’s safest to walk on a sidewalk, but if one is not available, walk on the shoulder and face traffic.”

Curry often gives pedestrian safety presentations to community organizations. An unrelated but similar effort also is underway to eliminate pedestrian fatalities in the Memphis Medical District, led by the Memphis Medical District Collaborative.

Regional One Health is part of the Medical District Collaborative, an organization that recently launched “Be Aware,” a campaign that is the local version of the international “Vision Zero” movement. It’s an effort to support Memphis Medical District pedestrians, whether they’re employees, students, business patrons, neighborhood residents or a hospital visitor.

The Be Aware campaign raises awareness of pedestrian safety in the Medical District through five strategies: engineering, enforcement, education, equity and engagement.

Engineering efforts include streetscape improvements, signage and lighting added to high-density, frequently trafficked areas. Enforcement includes volunteers working with law enforcement to make drivers and pedestrians aware of safe practices and legal obligations, while education includes providing motorists and pedestrians with information to encourage safer interactions.

Equity means recognizing challenges that minorities and under-represented Memphians face. And engagement includes activities and events to raise awareness and participation of pedestrians in the Medical District.

Regional One Health has seen plenty of pedestrian-related accidents. In 2015, the Elvis Presley Trauma Center admitted 264 patients with pedestrian injuries as the admitting diagnosis. The number did decrease 1 percent in 2016 to 243 patients admitted with pedestrian injuries.

Many pedestrian accidents are avoidable by motorists not texting and driving or pedestrians not texting and walking.

Curry’s recommendation for pedestrians to cross streets at crosswalks makes sense according to Tennessee law, which states pedestrians have the right of way at all intersections and driveways. Unfortunately, motorists aren’t always aware they must yield to pedestrians at an intersection. Secondly, when crossing the road at any point other than a marked crosswalk or unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, pedestrians are required to yield to vehicles.

Crosswalks aren’t always in convenient locations, and pedestrians unfortunately find it easier sometimes to just walk across the road, sometimes in unsafe scenarios. And in an automobile-centric community like Memphis, motorists aren’t conditioned to watch for pedestrians and cyclists like in other cities.

Many of these accidents and deaths are avoidable, whether on the part of motorists or pedestrians. Both motorists and pedestrians are distracted more than ever, thanks to hand-held devices. The biggest distraction for motorists before the proliferation of mobile phones was adjusting the car radio station. But now, whether it’s texting and driving, having a phone conversation or even checking a Twitter feed instead of focused on the road, drivers are distracted.

Pedestrians also have many of those same distractions, but walking the extra distance to a crosswalk instead of walking across a busy road is a good first step to safety.

Other pedestrian safety tips include:

  • Increase visibility at night by carrying a flashlight and wearing reflective clothing
  • Avoid distractions such as electronic devices that take your attention off the road
  • Children should be reminded to not play and push friends into the street for fun
  • Avoid alcohol when walking
  • Do no use electronics while crossing a street
  • Never text and drive (or text and walk)
  • Always stay alert

If you are part of an organization interested in receiving a pedestrian safety presentation, please call Aleisha Curry at 901-545-8788 or email [email protected].