Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Lessons from Using Humor to Curb Jaywalking

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Lessons from Using Humor to Curb Jaywalking

Article excerpt

If you're the guy in charge, how do you convince the people you represent to stop doing dangerous things, especially if those dangerous things -- such as jaywalking -- are killing and maiming them?

"People who voted for me came up to me in the street, looked me in the eye and said, 'How could you?' " said Mark Sokolich.

The Fort Lee mayor -- along with his police chief -- had the unmitigated gall last spring to demand that cops enforce the seldom- imposed jaywalking law after four pedestrians were killed on the borough's busy streets.

Jay Leno even made fun of the Fort Lee campaign.

Might there be a less politically offensive way to get the jaywalking message across? Maybe something laced with talk-show humor?

The folks who run Philadelphia think they've found it. Starting in late February, pedestrians who dodge the city's busy traffic on foot will be seeing signs that rely on light-hearted suggestion, not heavy-handed prosecution, as in:

"Cross smart. You're fast, but cars are faster."

Instead of addressing drivers as if they were criminals, additional signs will treat them as (ahem) contributors, as in:

"Thank you for not running pedestrians over. It's road safety, not rocket science."

There's something for bus drivers, too:

"It's a bus stop, not a bus chase."

And for anybody with a rearview mirror:

"Objects in mirrors appear only when looked at."

"We realized that enforcing some of these laws was very, very unpopular, so we wanted messages that attracted people's attention with a 'Philly attitude' that they could understand," said Andrew Stober, transportation spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter.

In other words: messages that adults should be able to appreciate without feeling threatened by a cop looking to fill a ticket quota.

Such messages might make sense in urban areas like the City of Brotherly Love, where one pedestrian is hit by a car every four hours, according to its mayor. It also might work in New Jersey, where a sarcastic, hurry-up Jersey attitude likely contributed to 164 pedestrian deaths last year -- 15 percent more than in 2011.

But here's the rub. Humor, whether parody or outright sarcasm, can be dangerous when dealing with road crashes that kill more than 32,000 people nationally each year -- 595 in our state alone last year, according to updated New Jersey State Police figures. …

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