Durham County

Zero crash fatalities? Durham hopes so

At the corner of Chapel Hill Boulevard and University Drive a “Ghost Bike” is adorned with brightly colored flowers in February 2014. The bike honored Joshua Johnson, of Durham, who was killed Aug. 21, 2013, while riding his scooter. The driver of a van was charged with failure to yield right of way and misdemeanor death by vehicle.
At the corner of Chapel Hill Boulevard and University Drive a “Ghost Bike” is adorned with brightly colored flowers in February 2014. The bike honored Joshua Johnson, of Durham, who was killed Aug. 21, 2013, while riding his scooter. The driver of a van was charged with failure to yield right of way and misdemeanor death by vehicle. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Durham wants you to get that one person you know who won’t wear a seat belt to buckle up.

It’s part of NC Vision Zero, a statewide transportation safety initiative with the goal of zero traffic fatalities. The city held a kickoff meeting Tuesday.

Terry Bellamy, Durham transportation director, said he had worked in transportation for 30 years when he had to visit someone’s home in Washington, D.C., to tell them their loved one had been killed by a drunk driver when crossing the street.

“That’s when it really struck home that one life is too much to give up because we are in a hurry to get somewhere,” Bellamy said. In Durham, he said, an average of 23 traffic fatalities fluctuates from year to year.

“Speed kills. We don’t need to text and drive. The example that we set when we have our children and grandchildren in the car is an example we’ll set that they’ll carry with them,” he said.

Bellamy said that after a traffic death, the transportation department is asked what they’ll do, like putting up a traffic light or installing speed humps.

“But we cannot bring back a life. So that’s why Vision Zero is important,” he said.

Being part of the initiative won’t cost taxpayers any more money, as it uses existing funding. However Bellamy said they’ll be looking for additional support for aspects of the safety campaign like education.

Durham is planning Vision Zero Durham Week Sept. 12-15 and is looking for co-hosts for events. It will also observe the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims on Nov. 19.

Zero fatalities is an audacious goal, said Keith Chadwell, deputy city manager, so that’s why they need collaboration.

“It is winnable,” by simple decisions, said NC Vision Zero coordinator Tracy Anderson. Don’t answer your phone while driving. If you have a few drinks, arrange a ride home. Be late instead of speeding, she said.

And there’s that 9 percent of people who don’t wear seat belts.

“Most of us can reach those people,” Anderson said. “The goal is to harness that majority. Talk to them about Vision Zero. Reach out, speak up to that 9 percent of people who still don’t wear a seatbelt.”

Durham Fire Chief Daniel Curia,whose department makes those visits to the homes of people killed in crashes, recited Vision Zero’s safety pledge:

▪ Only drive when sober, alert and free of distractions.

▪ Look out for others especially children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and people walking or biking.

▪ Slow down and look around, especially at intersections and driveways.

▪ Practice the rules of the road, including yielding to people walking.

▪ Share the Vision Zero Durham pledge with my friends and family.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan

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