BEAUFORT — Visually impaired resident Peter Crumley uses a white cane or a leader dog to safely cross streets in his town.
Mr. Crumley, 66, said he’s had several close calls with motorists who were unaware of a law that gives the blind or partially blind the right-of-way at crosswalks or intersections.
“I can’t even count how many times I’ve nearly been hit,” Mr. Crumley said Thursday.
To raise awareness of the importance of protecting the blind, as well as all pedestrians and bicyclists at crosswalks, Beaufort law enforcement officers observed two programs Thursday at the crosswalk at Turner and Front streets.
Officers hosted White Cane Awareness Day, which is celebrated nationwide by the National Federation of the Blind. The date is set aside to celebrate the achievements of people who are blind or visually impaired and the importance of the white cane, which is their tool of independence.
In addition, the town celebrated Watch for Me NC, a program aimed at reducing pedestrian and bicycle injuries and deaths through public education, community engagement and high-visibility law enforcement.
“This educational awareness campaign is just as much for our pedestrian traffic as it is for our vehicular traffic,” Beaufort Police Chief Paul Burdette said.
Beaufort was named a Watch for Me NC community for 2019 and 2020. The program is a component of community safety planning.
The short-term goal is to raise awareness for bicycle and pedestrian safety issues within communities and the agencies serving the public in the realm of transportation safety, according to a press release issued by the town. The long-term goal is to build a culture of safety around bicycling and walking in the state of North Carolina.
According to the N.C. Department of Transportation, which sponsors Watch for Me NC, each year more than 2,400 pedestrians and 960 bicyclists are hit by cars on North Carolina highways.
With Thursday also White Cane Awareness Day, officers invited Mr. Crumley to attend their event to increase awareness of safety for the blind.
Mr. Crumley spoke about the importance of drivers being aware of those crossing streets with white canes and knowing the law.
“The blind must rely on special learned orientation and mobility skills to remain independently mobile, along with an uncertain level of faith that the driving public will completely yield the
right-of-way when a blind walker is making a street crossing at a designated crosswalk as traffic is required to remain stopped in both directions until the blind walker has successfully completed crossing the street,” Mr. Crumley said.
For blind people, the white cane is an essential tool that gives them the ability to achieve a full and independent life, according to Mr. Crumley.
“The white cane allows the blind to avoid obstacles, find steps and curbs, locate and step over cracks or uneven places in the sidewalk, find doorways, get into cars and buses and much more. When you see a blind person using a white cane, remember that the cane is their tool to safely and independently navigate the environment,” he said. “If you are driving or cycling and see someone using a white cane or a guide dog, you must follow the law and stop to give that person the right of way.”
Here are pedestrian safety tips provided by the town and Watch for Me NC:
· Look for cars in all directions, including those turning left or right or backing up, before crossing the street.
· Be careful crossing multiple lanes of traffic. Make sure each lane of traffic is clear before you cross.
· At night, walk in well-lit areas, carry a flashlight or wear something reflective.
· Avoid distraction. More and more people are texting or talking on cell phones when crossing streets. This diminishes the ability of two key senses — hearing and seeing — that are used to detect and avoid cars.
· Obey all pedestrian traffic signals.
· Cross the street where you have the best view of traffic. At bus stops, cross behind the bus or at the nearest crosswalk.
· Always walk on the sidewalk. If there is no sidewalk, walk facing traffic and as far from the roadway as you can.
Here are motorist safety tips:
· Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.
· Always look first for pedestrians and bicyclists before turning, backing up and when driving at night.
· Pass bicyclists with 4 feet of space in a no-passing zone, otherwise, safely pass with a minimum of 2 feet.
· Never pass a vehicle that is stopped for pedestrians.
· Before making a turn, be sure the path is clear of any pedestrians or bicyclists.
· Slow down in areas where you are likely to find pedestrians, such as near bus stops, schools and playgrounds.
· Look carefully behind your vehicle for approaching pedestrians before backing up.
· Keep an eye out for pedestrians at night that may be walking near or across the road.
Here are bicyclist safety tips:
· Wear a helmet. It could save your life.
· Use a light and reflex mirrors or reflective clothing when bicycling at night and be as visible as possible.
· Ride in the direction of traffic and as far to the right as practicable.
· Obey all signs and signals, including stopping at stop signs and red lights.
· Avoid distractions, such as listening to headphones or answering phones, when riding.
· Use hand signals to indicate stops and turns.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.