Norcross police begin enforcing pedestrian safety

NORCROSS - Norcross drivers may view pedestrians in a different light now that city police are cracking down on drivers who don't stop for road-bound walkers.

Norcross police said they handed out 21 tickets between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tuesday during an undercover crosswalk enforcement effort.

The drivers' education and ticketing process was organized in connection with the People Educating Drivers on Safety (PEDS) organization - a nonprofit aimed at educating drivers about pedestrian and road safety and state laws.

"In the metro-Atlanta area every year about 1,000 pedestrians are hit and injured," said PEDS Program Manager Michael Orta. "And approximately another 80 are hit and killed. We want drivers to know the laws. You're not just supposed to yield to pedestrians, you're supposed to stop when they're in a crosswalk."

Detectives Jason Carter and Louis Athas took to the intersection of Jones and South Peachtree streets in downtown Norcross on Tuesday, passing through crosswalks, making sure motorists stopped for them, and others, as they crossed the streets.

Sgt. Arthur Utset of the criminal investigation unit, one of three Norcross officers educating drivers and writing tickets Tuesday, said Carter and Athas were looking for drivers who weren't stopping as the two crossed the streets. Drivers not obeying the laws were stopped by officers, made to pull to the side of South Peachtree Street and written a ticket.

Drivers could face up to a $1,000 fine, according to a pamphlet put together by PEDS and the Governor's Officer of Highway Safety. Each driver issued a ticket Tuesday was given one of the pamphlets with their ticket.

Carter said the department's goal was to educate drivers and make the roads safer for pedestrians.

"We had no goal for writing citations, for writing tickets," Carter said. "Our goal was to make drivers aware. I think people will go home and talk about it. We got the attention of a lot of drivers today and got a lot of positive feedback from pedestrians."

Lt. Jeff Thornton of the traffic unit said the day's crackdown stemmed from complaints from pedestrians who frequent the downtown area.

"If a pedestrian is in the crosswalk of a two-lane road like this (the driver) has to stop," Thornton said. "And (drivers) often don't."

Martha Scarbrough, a resident of Norcross for 35 years, said she was stopped by officers as she drove through downtown Norcross.

"I think it's a good idea, but I think they need a different way of doing this," Scarbrough said. "I think we've got the greatest police department, but they need to do this differently than just trapping people like this."

Carter said nearly 150,000 drivers cut through the small downtown area of Norcross daily.

"We've had several complaints and that's what we're trying to address," Carter said. "We've got a cute, quaint town and we want to keep it that way."

Although this was the first organized effort of its kind this year, Norcross police said they plan to make the crosswalk stops a regular occurrence.

Michelle Crofton said she and her husband have lived just two blocks from downtown Norcross where police set up their stop for 11 years and said she thinks the undercover operations are a great idea.

"We come down here several times a week," Crofton said. "We think this is very important because we've almost been hit several times."

Although a set date and time has not been decided, police said they plan to set up a similar crosswalk education and ticketing operation in Norcross soon.