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A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year

Crosswalk safety topic of Geller study and contest

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 09 - October 23, 1997

Walk properly and carry a big star. That could be the motto of the latest safety project being conducted by Scott Geller, professor of psychology, and his students.
Geller's students are promoting safety in crossing the roads on Virginia Tech's campus, where at least 14 pedestrians not in crosswalks have been hit since January 1997 and 11 bicyclists have been struck in that same time frame, Geller said. According to Lt. H.P. Caldwell of Virginia Tech's Police Department, both drivers and pedestrians are required to show due caution. Drivers are required to stop for a pedestrian who is in the crosswalk or obviously stepping off the sidewalk into the crosswalk. If the pedestrian is still on the sidewalk but obviously headed toward the crosswalk, the driver is not required to stop, "but it's courtesy," he said. The driver is not required to stop if the pedestrian is simply standing on the sidewalk because the driver has no way of knowing if he or she intends to cross. On the other hand, the pedestrian should always cross at a crosswalk and is required to exercise due care and not recklessly cross regardless of traffic.
To increase awareness and safety practices while learning about the campus's habits, Geller and his students are conducting a campus-wide sweepstakes in which participants can win prizes ranging from a trip to the Bahamas to a diamond ring. They have been collecting data on pedestrian and driver behavior on campus since September 22. The intervention project started October 13. In this phase, participants sign pledge cards promising to use crosswalks when walking and to stop at crosswalks when driving. Previous research on safety-belt use showed that signing a pledge card increases the desired behavior, Geller said.
Participants can also get others to sign promise cards and will receive a star button in return. The first participant's name is also included on the new person's pledge card, giving extra chances to win a prize.
The star is symbolic of the key components of safe crosswalk behavior, Geller said. "S" stands for "see" what others are doing. "T" is for "think" before you act. "A" is for "act" on your pledge or proper crosswalk behavior. "R" is for "recognition" or "reward" for doing the right thing. Additionally, participants are being asked to thank drivers for stopping at the crosswalk.
Various merchants have donated prizes, and many will carry the pledge cards, which will also be available across campus. Faculty and staff members are eligible to participate as well as students.
The grand prize will be awarded November 7 at noon in Squires. After that, Geller and his students will analyze the data and again observe pedestrian and driver behaviors to determine the impact of the incentive program. They hope to develop a process that can be used nation-wide.