Excellence Award Recipient Spotlight
More than 600 pedestrians are struck and killed by vehicles in Texas every year. The victims are more than nameless, faceless statistics filed away in some regulatory agency database. They are spouses, relatives, friends, co-workers, and even children.
During the first few weeks of 2018 school year, three Garland ISD high school students were hit on crosswalks. Nobody was seriously injured, but the risk management department was determined to reverse the trend. Led by Fleet Specialist Barbara Russell, the team responded with its Excellence Award-winning crosswalk safety campaign.
Stay alert. Don’t get hurt.
Risk management professionals like Russell know that if you want to address a safety hazard, you have to identify the root causes. She and her team spent time watching students navigate the streets around the district’s seven high schools, many of which do not have the benefit of crossing guards. What they found was no surprise in today’s wired world.
“In some places, we saw 30 to 50 high school students crossing busy, three-lane streets,” said Russell. “It wasn’t unusual for them to be looking at their phones and listening to music through earbuds. They were not paying attention to their surroundings. It didn’t occur to them that drivers are often similarly distracted.”
So, Russell and the team delivered a refresher in the A, B, Cs of crosswalk safety through a multimedia campaign. The campaign leveraged a video shared on YouTube and campus television monitors, as well as student-designed posters and messages on district websites. Each component was anchored by an easily remembered tagline: “Stay alert. Don’t get hurt.”
The science of distraction
Garland ISD is not the only organization working hard to change stakeholder behaviors. Regulatory agencies, law enforcement entities, nonprofits, and coverage providers have also launched campaigns to send the message that distractions and travel—regardless of mode—are a dangerous combination. Success hinges on busting a commonly believed myth among drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.
“Too many of us still believe we can multitask,” said Nicole Callahan, a TASB risk solutions consultant who serves Garland ISD. “We do it every day at home and work, so we think we’ve gotten pretty good at it. Unfortunately, science says otherwise.”
Callahan is referring to studies that show the brain cannot focus on more than one cognitive, or “thinking,” task at a time. When faced with competing cognitive tasks, the brain toggles between them, never giving its undivided attention to one. That neuroscientific tidbit can cause big problems for distracted pedestrians.
Because their brains are focused on a conversation, a text message, or their favorite band’s new song, they are more likely to forget to obey the traffic signal, look both ways, and make eye contact with the lead driver before crossing. The consequences of disregarding these best practices can be fatal, especially for teens.
National Safety Council data show that 64 percent of pedestrians who died after being hit by a motor vehicle in 2017 were between the ages of 15 and 19.
Instilling safe behaviors in the next generation
Garland ISD’s safety campaign was an in-house effort from start to finish. Elementary school students chipped in by participating in the crosswalk safety poster-design contest. The communications department scripted the video, and the district’s television station filmed it. To cut campaign costs and boost credibility, Russell’s team recruited high school theater students to star in the video.
“In our district, risk management owns crosswalk safety, but we all share responsibility for keeping students safe,” said Russell. “We would not have been able to pull this campaign off as economically as we did without collaboration. Fund members who want to launch a similar campaign should leverage the expertise of not only other departments but also their students.”
Because of the campaign’s collaborative spirit, the only expense went toward rewarding poster contest winners with t-shirts that had their design printed on them. Callahan adds that the return on investment from the poster contest has the potential to resonate long after the winners outgrow their shirts.
“Many of the accidents I see, whether it’s crosswalk accidents or workplace injuries among staff, result from unsafe behaviors, not unsafe conditions, said Callahan. “Changing those behaviors is probably a risk manager’s toughest task. By starting early with elementary students, Garland ISD is instilling safe behaviors that could last children a lifetime.”
Even a simple idea can make a difference
The Fund’s Excellence Award program recognizes members who implement exemplary solutions to risk management challenges. Garland ISD and our other winners earn a $1,000 honorarium to apply toward their risk management initiatives. We also recognize them in front of their peers during our Members’ Conference.
The 2020 application process is now open–submit your idea today. The deadline is January 31, 2020 at 6 p.m.
Pictured: Garland ISD Fleet Specialist Barbara Russell accepts the 2019 Excellence Award at Members' Conference 2019.