Pedestrian, crosswalk safety focus of Montgomery Co. police campaign

BETHESDA, Md. — Drivers in four spots along Md. Route 355 from Bethesda to Germantown may have spotted pedestrians at crosswalks with walkie-talkies. Those pedestrians were members of the Montgomery County Police Department, focusing on pedestrian safety in marked, but “un-signalized” crosswalks — those crosswalks without traffic lights.

At Md. Route 355 and Chase Avenue in Bethesda, Officer Jamie Derbyshire crossed repeatedly, and in one 15-minute period, all four police officers working with her were busy writing tickets for drivers who failed to yield where she was crossing. Each offense carries an $80 fine and one point on a driver’s license.

From 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., police said they issued 52 citations in Bethesda, 19 in Rockville and five in Germantown. Also, 17 warnings were issued.

In one instance, a car nearly failed to stop for Derbyshire — stopping just feet from where she stood. That driver was among those issued a citation.

In the past, there has been some grumbling by drivers about the “stings” that employ police officers in plain clothes crossing the street, but Lt. David McBain says the targeted enforcement does not amount to entrapment.

“It is fair. We’re not doing anything different than pedestrians normally do,” McBain said.

McBain says “officers have very strict instructions. They’re not jumping out in front of cars.” McBain stresses that officers take care to walk at a point where cars have adequate stopping distance.

“They should be able to stop,” he added.

The exercise is part of a regionwide effort to reduce pedestrian fatalities. Last year, Montgomery County recorded 11 fatal crashes involving pedestrians.

McBain said one type of violation is particularly troubling: that’s when a pedestrian tries to cross multiple lanes, and drivers in one lane may stop, while those in adjacent lanes try to shoot past.

“When one car stops — all cars have to stop. You cannot go past a car that is stopped for a pedestrian in a crosswalk: that is where we’re seeing pedestrians get hit,” he said.

At the same time, McBain said pedestrians need to take care and pay attention to whether drivers appear to notice them. According to recent data, McBain said, that message is getting through.

“Pedestrians are paying a little bit more attention, and we’re seeing compliance.”

Distracted driving remains a serious problem, and McBain says it’s not just the result of the use of hand-held devices such as cellphones.

“The putting on the makeup, the drinking and eating, the use of the cellphone, all of the above is causing wrecks.”

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