ANNAPOLIS – Rockville is starting a new pedestrian and bicycle safety program in its elementary schools as part of a countywide initiative toeducate minorities who may be unfamiliar with U.S. traffic laws.
The city is using a $123,000 grant from Maryland’s Highway SafetyOffice to teach pedestrian and bicycle safety through a pilot program inelementary schools.
“We really need to start with the children. Maybe they can take ithome to their parents,” said Debbie Mayer, Bikeway coordinator of theRockville Bike Program.
Beginning Sept. 25, elementary school students will participate in atype of driver’s education course. A trailer filled with 30 bikes,helmets and other equipment will travel to all of Rockville’s elementaryschools to help teach students the essentials of bicycle safety. Eachyear, students will get a refresher course. Pupils in kindergartenthrough grade 2 will be taught pedestrian safety, instead.
Rockville’s program is one effort to get the word out to minoritiesthat walking and bike safety is important.
Roughly half of all Montgomery County pedestrian fatalities in 1999and 2000 occurred among residents new to the country. That’s promptedcounty agencies to use a “culturally specific targeted campaign” toeducate the area’s new immigrant population about pedestrian safety.
“One of our significant findings is that the immigrant newly arrived population is sorely represented in crash statistics,” said Pamela Miller,a member of the Montgomery County Blue Ribbon Panel on Pedestrian andTraffic Safety.
The county contains 38 percent of the state’s Hispanic population and43 percent of Maryland’s Asian population. Of the roughly 3,000pedestrian crashes that happened in Maryland last year, about 400 were inMontgomery County. Eleven of those crashes were fatal, according to theState Highway Administration.
“One of the top priorities (of the panel) was a recommendation callingfor an educational campaign that would reach deep into the minoritypopulation,” said Delegate William Bronrott, D-Montgomery, panelchairman.
New immigrants are often reliant on public transportation, Bronrottsaid. That makes them more subject to pedestrian accidents, according tothe panel’s findings. Most deaths occurred on the side of the roadbetween intersections, the panel found. It also determined that many busstops are at inconvenient and dangerous locations. Add to that the factthat many new immigrants don’t speak English well, and often cannot readroad signs.
The panel released its final report Jan. 28. Its recommendations were based on the so-called “three E’s” of pedestrian-traffic safety:education, enforcement and engineering. The members called for creating amandatory safety curriculum for children in kindergarten through gradeeight, increasing enforcement of pedestrians’ right-of-way in crosswalks,especially in high-collision “hot spots,” and carrying out a countywide”Safe Routes to School” program. The report’s release prompted thebeginning of the county’s two-phase public awareness campaign — firstfocusing on educating the general population on driver and pedestriansafety, and second, targeting the Hispanic community, the bulk of thecounty’s minority population.
Reaching the Hispanic community takes more than simply posting up bilingual signs.
“There is a huge need to get on a culturally specific level — toreach out on a level that’s going to be meaningful,” Miller said. “Justas important as how you deliver the message is where you deliver themessage.”
The county will target Hispanic media and gathering points likechurches, community centers and English classes. -30- CNS-9-13-02