FARMINGTON — When Spencer and Hunter Benson learned of their friend's death in a crosswalk here, they were instantly impacted. But rather than have the incident remain a tragic cautionary tale, they decided to turn it into a project of awareness in remembrance of a young life lost.
On March 27, 16-year old Andrew Tolman was struck and killed by a westbound driver as he walked his bicycle through a crosswalk at 400 South and State Street in Farmington. Authorities said the intersection has not been a problem in the past, but the teen's death has shined a light on traffic safety.
Now a Farmington family is working to get orange traffic safety flags placed at the intersection where Tolman was hit and at other high-traffic crossings. Recent studies show it could have a dramatic impact on keeping pedestrians safe.
"We don't want any of our friends, or friends of other friends, to have this happen to them," said Hunter Benson, 15. "We don't want to go to school knowing that we could have done something to stop it and someone else got hit."
Benson said he attended elementary school with Tolman while his 17-year-old brother Spencer Benson played soccer with him. They both knew him as a friendly, hard-working young man, who excelled in academics, sports and was also an Eagle Scout.
The traffic flag effort is part of the boys' Eagle Scout service project.
"We were all friends with him, and it's a good thing to know that just because he's not here anymore he can still make an impact on the community," said Spencer Benson. The project is just the kind of effort that Andrew would have been involved with himself, Spencer said.
"He was always trying to help people, and this is definitely something that will help a lot of people," he said.
According to data from the University of Utah, the installation of flags at crosswalks has yielded significant safety results.
"(The) study found that 81 percent of vehicles stopped to allow pedestrians to cross when they were holding the orange flags, compared to 20 percent of vehicles that stopped when orange flags were not used," said Colin Quinn-Hurst, pedestrian and bicycle transportation planner for Salt Lake City.
The city also completed two flag use studies that showed approximately 11 percent to 14 percent of pedestrians used the flags when walking in crosswalks.
Quinn-Hurst said that in the first year of the program, there was a 10.6 percent reduction in the number of auto pedestrian crashes reported to police.
"By 2003, three years after the program began (accompanied by other crosswalk improvements such as countdown timers at signalized intersections), the Salt Lake City (metropolitan statistical area) showed the greatest improvement in pedestrian safety in the entire nation, with the Pedestrian Danger Index declining by 44.2 percent," he said. "The PDI looks at the rate of pedestrian deaths relative to the amount of people that walk in a given metro area."
Flag programs in other cities have also proved effective, he said.
A pedestrian flag program in Washington, D.C., found that “thirty percent of pedestrians used the flags in crossing, and the observed compliance rate was 92.5 percent for pedestrians with flags. For pedestrians without flags, 73 percent of drivers did not yield to the pedestrians in the crosswalk."
"These pedestrians were forced to await a gap in traffic in order to cross the roadway," he said.
Meanwhile, along with their mother, Becky Hale, the Benson brothers have set up the Andrew Tolman Crosswalk Fund at Wells Fargo Bank — dedicated to raising the $1,000 needed to finance the flag project. The family has also reached out to Farmington city officials and is hopeful to have the approval process expedited so that the flags can be in place before the school year ends in late May or early June.
"I've talked to them (and) the Tolman family doesn’t want this to happen again," Hale said. "This is a message to everybody that's affected by this to reach out and help, and to have that moment when they see the flags to know that we're making a difference in the lives of a lot of people."