The University Police Department and Vermillion Police Department have received multiple complaints from Vermillion citizens on students crossing East Cherry Street since school started.
These complaints have been centered around students not paying attention while crossing or not paying attention to traffic lights, and UPD is searching to find solutions. A potential solution would be placing an officer at the crosswalk to cite students for jaywalking, which is a petty offense in South Dakota law.
Jeff Rice, UPD lieutenant, said one of the problems they are seeing is students not using the safety button at the intersection. Rice said he is disappointed to see this kind of peer pressure.
“One of the things we are hearing is that freshmen are being convinced that it’s not cool to hit the button,” Rice said. “I thought we were over peer pressure into not doing something when their safety is at stake. This is 2018, we should be over this kind of pressure.”
Tyson Newton, a first-year accounting major, said he has heard people say not to use the button, however, he said he thinks it is in more of a sarcastic manner.
“I’ve heard that I shouldn’t and a lot of people call it the ‘freshmen button,’ but most of them give off a joking vibe that they are joking rather than being serious,” Newton said. “I usually don’t push the button if I’m alone because I feel like it’s not worth it to make 30 cars stop just for me to cross the street.”
Rice said UPD is trying to find solutions to limit the number of complaints they received on students crossing without paying attention to traffic lights or the oncoming traffic.
One of the solutions the department has thought of is placing an officer on the street that cites people for jaywalking to try and limit citizen concerns.
“It is a violation. They do have to stop at a crosswalk when they are legally able to do so,” Rice said. “If it’s red you can’t go. I’d hate to see it get to a point that we’d have to start standing an officer out there and citing people for jaywalking.”
Rice said he hopes by getting the word out, students will realize how great of a risk this is and hopefully UPD will not have to take that next step.
“We really want to take the first step and get as many students educated as possible and get them to realize that their safety is more important than being cool and not pushing the button,” Rice said.
Newton said he feels safe crossing this intersection and said it is common sense on whether students should press the button or not.
“I feel like UPD doesn’t need to monitor this section, it’s a safe place with a good set up to cross,” Newton said.
The issue with the intersection is not just with UPD. VPD has also been receiving complaints with the intersection. UPD is involved because of their priorities to student safety and VPD is responsible for issues affecting the townspeople.
Matt Betzen, VPD chief of police, said multiple residents have complained to him about students walking across the street unaware of their surroundings.
“We’ve had several citizens complain right after school started,” Betzen said. “Obviously this is not our biggest concern, but some citizens that live here year round have told me that they’ve stopped driving on Cherry even though it is the most direct route because they are afraid students are going to step out in front of them or they are worried about people looking at their phones.”
Betzen said some of the complaints being made are a misunderstanding of what South Dakota’s traffic laws state.
“The way the law is written is that if you cross somewhere that is not controlled, you have to yield the right of way to vehicles,” Betzen said. “The way the law is written is in places that are controlled, you have to yield the right of way if the light isn’t in your favor. If it’s a green light for the traffic the waker has to yield the traffic. Otherwise, it is a violation and a petty offense under state law.”
According to South Dakota law, it is not illegal to cross the road when the light is red if there is no car in sight. Betzen said this is because most South Dakota communities, including Vermillion, have little traffic.
“Our concern as a police department is that it becomes normal to always just cross,” Betzen said. “You may go there 10 times and there’s not a car in sight, but if you go there the eleventh time and you’re not paying attention and there’s a car and the car has the green light, you need to be paying attention to what you’re doing.”
Although there has not been an accident at this location, both Rice and Betzen said it is important to take action before a tragedy occurs.
“The issue is, is that we could do all these things to enforce it, but it comes down to personal responsibility,” Rice said. “My major concern with that intersection is that it’s our students, our number one concern is always with student safety.”
Betzen said that while there are no current plans for placing an officer at the crosswalk to monitor jaywalkers. It is a potential solution if the situation does not improve.
“We really just want people to be safe,” Betzen said. “Force action is obviously not our first choice, but we are willing to do that if that’s what it takes. If people pay attention to what’s going this will get better.”