AUSTIN, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) announced it is launching the “Be Safe. Drive Smart.” campaign in recognition of National Pedestrian Safety Month, which is October.

The campaign encourages drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists to pay attention and protect each other by properly following traffic laws. The motivation for the initiative, according to TxDOT, is an increase in pedestrians and bicyclists deaths in Texas.

The department stated even though the number of traffic crashes in Texas went down in 2020, the number of people killed while walking and biking on state roadways went up dramatically. According to TxDOT, 731 people died in pedestrian-related crashes in Texas in 2020, a number 9% higher than in 2019. Regarding crashes involving bicyclists, 82 deaths were reported in 2020, compared to 68 deaths reported in 2019.

TxDOT also said alcohol was a factor in 25% of deaths caused during pedestrian and bicyclist-related crashes reported in 2020. In a press release, the department stated such fatal crashes account for one in every five traffic deaths across Texas. They said this happens because people often fail “to follow state laws designed to protect pedestrians and bicyclists,” and that is why they are launching the public awareness campaign.

“More than 800 people lost their lives last year in pedestrian and bicycle-related crashes on Texas roads. One death is too many,” said TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams. “Whether you’re behind the wheel, on foot, or riding a bicycle, we’re reminding all Texans that they need to be safe and smart, and that starts with obeying traffic laws.” 

TxDOT announced it is reminding Texans of the laws in place to ensure “safe walking, biking, and driving,” and asking people to follow them. The department said drivers must take all necessary steps to protect those walking and riding bicycles since they are more likely to die or get hurt during an accident.

“State laws mandate stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks, yielding the right of way to pedestrians and bicyclists when turning, and passing bicyclists at a safe distance and giving them room to ride,” TxDOT said.

The department said bicyclists should also follow specific laws. Besides obeying all traffic signals, TxDOT reminded “those who ride bicycles must use hand signals when turning or stopping, ride with traffic, use bike lanes or ride as near as possible to the right-hand curb, and when riding at night, make sure their bikes have a white light on the front and a red light or reflector on the back.”

Finally, TxDOT said pedestrians should also do their part. “Pedestrians must cross the street only at intersections and crosswalks, obey all traffic and crosswalk signals and always use sidewalks. If there isn’t a sidewalk, pedestrians should walk on the left side of the street or road, facing oncoming traffic.”

The department informed Texans should expect to see reminders about the “Be Safe. Drive Smart.” campaign throughout the state.