Over student drivers and crossing the street: a traffic light needs to be installed outside Wakefield


Staff photo by Seth Steiner

Students cross the street to get to Schoolhouse Street by foot, while some students also depart in their cars. This is what you’ll find in the intersection of Wakefield Pines Drive, Schoolhouse Street and the school’s driveway on a typical Wednesday afternoon.

Every morning, thousands of students attend school at Wakefield. Many students walk to school, some are driven in carpool, others take the bus and many upperclassmen drive themselves. While transportation, in any form, can be dangerous, many of us are in perilous situations on a daily basis at the intersection on Wakefield Pines Drive when turning into our school or walking across this busy intersection.

The biggest danger we face when crossing the busy intersection is motor vehicles and their drivers failing to heed to pedestrians, who have the right of way. When I cross from the neighborhood, Middleton, over to the school, vehicles can come over the hill rather fast and not only can I not see the cars, they cannot see me crossing. Once I’m halfway across, I then come to a median. Then, I must cross again. The second crossing is much more dangerous as more of us take it, and there is traffic turning from both sides of the road. Those of us walking must be sure to stay clear of the oncoming traffic, and simply hope drivers aren’t distracted while we cross.

The intersection in question, which leads in and out of the school, is also part of Wakefield Pines Drive, a relatively busy road. The intersection’s fourth ingress/egress point is into the Middleton neighborhood, onto Schoolhouse Street. Students who walk to and from the neighborhood in the mornings and afternoons are incredibly vulnerable to cars, as there is no point at which oncoming traffic is forced to stop. What also makes this intersection particularly dangerous is the number of student drivers, especially during arrival in the morning and dismissal in the afternoon. Many young and inexperienced drivers make poor decisions or are unaware of who has the right of way. Their unawareness is understandable considering that many have only had their licenses for a few months, but it still makes the intersection dangerous.

Many young and inexperienced drivers make poor decisions or are unaware of who has the right of way.”

We can keep our student walkers safe by having drivers –especially student drivers– familiarize themselves with the North Carolina right-of-way laws. According to Shea Denning, a scholar in motor vehicle law, if two cars approach or enter an intersection at or around the same time, the driver on the left should proceed with caution in front of the vehicle driving on the right, unless they wait for them to pass. The right of way should not be defined by a fraction of a second. This all means that students need to be much more mindful when executing their turns into the school. However, regarding the situation at the intersection of Schoolhouse Street and Wakefield Pines Drive, it is clear that these laws haven’t been reinforced enough.

The most viable solution for this problem is to install traffic lights for all sides, along with lights that let pedestrians know when to cross. This would keep both drivers and pedestrians much more aware of when they should proceed, and while it would not guarantee total safety, it would provide much more guidance for all parties in the intersection. A light would not only prevent drivers from turning when they didn’t have the right of way, but it would also increase pedestrian safety and make the likelihood of a pedestrian being hit much lower.

While the option of a traffic light in the intersection makes operations generally safer, the responsibility, at the end of the day, falls on the drivers, because in the end, pedestrians always have the right of way at crosswalks. Even with traffic lights, drivers can still cause accidents. One very prominent cause of accidents is distracted driving, especially on cell phones. According to the North Carolina Department of Insurance, 44,128 car crashes in 2020 involved distracted driving, and out of those crashes, 157 people died as a result of distracted driving. This number is too high, and many teenagers are prone to distracted driving simply because their brains haven’t fully matured. So, while a traffic light will definitely help in making sure drivers are avoiding possible distractions, it will also be vital in maintaining safety on our roads, and specifically just outside our school.

The problem we have is apparent. The intersection outside our school as it sits is not safe enough. The installation of a traffic light, while costly, is a definite solution that would make the intersection generally safer. While no solution will ever be perfect, anything would be an improvement at keeping our community safe.