Heads Up! There's a new program looking to put focus on safety, common sense

July 19, 2023
Three police officers and a city councilman flank a female surgeon speaking at a dais in front of a bus with the Heads Up signage on its side
Dr. Ashley Hink speaks to the crowd gathered at Brittlebank Park for the unveiling of the city's newest program, "Heads Up," which is aimed at reducing pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Photos by Sarah Pack

In the past three years, Charleston has seen 259 accidents involving cars and pedestrians. But for as daunting as that number is – according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2020, South Carolina had the second highest auto-pedestrian fatality rate in the nation – what’s even more jaw-dropping is that in half of those accidents it was the pedestrian who was at fault. 

And though that statistic might come as a shock to most, fortunately, it also comes with a silver lining. 

“Most of the injuries and deaths we see related to these accidents – they’re highly preventable,” said MUSC Health trauma surgeon Ashley Hink, M.D. Over the past five years, Hink and her colleagues have cared for more than 600 injured bikers and pedestrians. “What this means for all of us – whether we’re a driver or a pedestrian – is that if we simply follow some basic laws and rules, we’ll all be a lot safer.”

A close up of some of the Heads Up signs that will be posted around the city 
Keep a look out (possibly even a heads up?) for signs like these around town.

That’s where the Charleston Police Department’s latest campaign, “Heads Up,” comes into play. A joint effort between the CPD, MUSC Health, CARTA and the College of Charleston, it’s a common-sense approach to pedestrian safety. You might have already seen some of the posters – printed in bright orange, green and red – at CARTA bus stops around town. Their messages are concise and to the point: things like “disconnect from distraction,” “expect people in crosswalks” and “see and be seen.” In other words: put away your phones and pay attention.

“It’s simple stuff but so effective,” said Charleston City Council member Mike Seekings. “When you’re out there walking, just keep your head up, right? Don’t text and walk across intersections, don’t text and drive.”

Of the 600-plus injured bikers and pedestrians treated at MUSC Health since 2018, half had moderate to very severe injuries and 7% of them died. This year to date, there have been six pedestrian-related fatalities, already matching the total from 2022.

“One death is too many,” Seekings said. “Let’s make Dr. Hink’s job easier and our community safer.” 

The idea for the campaign came from a small city in California, which, much like South Carolina, was experiencing an abnormally high auto-pedestrian accident rate. Residents there expressed that they liked the simplicity and clarity of the program, with 65% saying it made them more aware of pedestrians. In addition to bus stop posters, Charleston’s version of the program, which went into effect on July 12, will also include key crosswalks with “Heads Up” prominently spray painted on the ground, additional print advertising and several CARTA buses sporting the campaign’s messages in larger-than-life font sizes.

“All these things are going to make the city much safer,” Seekings said.