ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — You might think motorists would be conditioned to stop and yield right of way to pedestrians at crosswalks. After all, it is state law.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. But a scientific approach is showing signs of hope.

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Take any crosswalk in any part of the city and it’s a good bet motorists are breaking the law, putting pedestrians in peril.

“It’s a huge problem so we want to make sure our community is safe for everybody,” St. Paul Police Commander Jeremy Ellison said. “Especially those who are the most vulnerable road users, which are people who are walking and biking.”

According to St. Paul police, over the past five years, 835 pedestrians were struck by vehicles. Those incidents resulted in 17 fatalities and injuries to 747 people, including many children.

In addition to stepped up enforcement and placing clearly marked crosswalk signage, police are turning to science.

(credit: CBS)

Nichole Morris directs the HumanFIRST Lab at the University of Minnesota. The lab’s researchers measure compliance at 16 crosswalks across the city. That data then gets placed on blue signs to show other drivers how many of them are obeying the law and yielding right-of-way to pedestrians. It is the principle of “social norming.”

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“Drivers might think most in the group are doing a certain behavior and that might make them feel better or worse about their own behavior,” Morris said.

It appears to be working. When researchers began recording data last October only one-third of drivers were yielding to pedestrians. The latest results show that number has increased to 52 percent.

“As most drivers are stopping for pedestrians, that’s going to make them feel compelled to try to be part of that group,” Morris said.

Certainly better, but it still leaves plenty of room for improvement.

“We’re seeing vehicles slow down, people put cellphones away and it is helping increase compliance,” Ellison said.

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Police here vow not to stop until they’ve achieved 100-percent compliance. Because even one pedestrian hit is one too many.