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Parents of ‘12 victim speak; traffic safety campaign reducing crashes after last year’s deaths, SHA says

(July 12, 2013) With pedestrian accidents down 70 percent over the same time last year, the State Highway Administration said this week that the resort is well on its way to remedying last year’s alarming uptick in crashes on Coastal Highway, which claimed the lives of two visitors.

The SHA held a press conference Wednesday to highlight its Ocean City “Walk Smart” campaign, an educational effort that was developed to improve pedestrian and driver behavior after last year’s frequent collisions.

“The energy that the SHA has put into this is terrific,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “It’s so important, because it’s so unfortunate that we’ve seen some of the tragedies we’ve had on our highway over the past few years.”

The event’s speakers were Cecilia Roe and Christopher Cheswick, the parents of Matthew Cheswick, who was killed on May 28, 2012. A Towson University student, he was killed when a drunk driver swerved into the bus lane towards a group of people who were waiting for an approaching bus.

“I truly believe that this is something Matthew would want to be spearheading,” Roe said. “We’re honored that Matthew is living on in these efforts.”

Christopher Cheswick wore a T-shirt that read “Cheese On!” – a catchphrase of his late son that has become the motto for a memorial philanthropic fund in Matthew Cheswick’s honor.

“What it meant to him … was the ability to treat all individuals with genuine compassion,” Christopher Cheswick said. “That’s who Matthew was. I’m hopeful this will allow Matthew’s legacy to live on.”

A week after Matthew Cheswick’s death, on June 4, 2012, Samantha Sweitzer, 15, an Allegany High School student from LaVale, was killed while attempting to cross Philadelphia Avenue at 21st Street. She reportedly was not in the crosswalk and going against traffic.

“As a parent, I think all of us feel that pit in our stomach when we think about what happened,” Meehan said.

In the majority of cases throughout the 2012 summer – 34 incidents in total, according to the Ocean City Police Department – it was reported that victims were either not in a crosswalk, or crossing against the signal, following an alarming trend of vacationers running across Coastal Highway mid-block, often from the raised brick median where drivers do not expect then to be.

The most dangerous section of road was between the convention center and the Route 90 Bridge, where 13 pedestrian accidents were reported last year. The vast majority of these, the SHA has noted, involved alcohol with either the driver, the pedestrian, or – more often than not – both.

To this end, the state has organized and funded a massive awareness campaign, featuring a myriad of media and advertising that even includes “Walk Smart” coasters that have now become ubiquitous in local bars.

The advertisements and promotional items primarily feature a cartoon crab who serves as a “lifeguard” for Coastal Highway and encourages the use of marked crosswalks.

“We have a unique issue here – a population that changes every week,” said SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer. “We turn over a different audience, a different group of people we have to educate.”

The SHA has also made a number of changes to traffic signals in the resort to improve safety. Turns onto Coastal Highway from the side roads at the 28th, 94th, and 130th Street intersections are now split, meaning that traffic from the east and west sides turn separately and will not be conflicting with pedestrians when they have the green arrow.

All signals on the highway have also had seven seconds of exclusive pedestrian walk time added to them to further reduce the danger from turning vehicles. In addition, 13 key intersections now have pedestrian signals that operate automatically between the hours of 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., so that potentially intoxicated pedestrians will not have to remember to push the button in order to cross the street.

More major changes, such as reducing the speed limit or installing a physical barrier on the highway median, are being studied for their feasibility and impact, according to SHA Assistant District Engineer Ken Cimino.

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