Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Pedestrian Safety Must Start from Ground Up

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Pedestrian Safety Must Start from Ground Up

Article excerpt

Ticket pedestrians!

That was a common cry on social media last week when a report out of Washington, D.C., ranked New Jersey the sixth-deadliest state for simply strolling across the street. Among this deadly six in the Governors Highway Safety Association study, New Jersey, Florida and Arizona were the only states where pedestrian deaths rose in the first half of 2014 compared with the similar period a year earlier. Carnage was worse in the other three, but at least California, Texas and New York managed to reduce their death tolls, as did most states.

In New Jersey, it was the deadliest year for foot traffic since 1996.

Fatalities rose from 67 in the first half of 2013 to 74 in the period last year, and state police figures show the pace picked up in the second six months when fall brought long, dark days and winter added ice and snow. As noted here in January, 172 walkers were killed in 2014. Of all counties, Bergen was hit hardest -- 24 walking deaths, the same fatality count that the county recorded in 2011 and 2012 combined.

Why is this happening?

Many drivers blame it on the victims themselves.

"Too many pedestrians are under the impression that they can walk across a street while not using designated crosswalks," wrote a Norwood reader, who called it "shameful" that police often ignore these violators.

"At least once a week, I resist the urge to hit a pedestrian because he decides to cross at the last minute in front of me," complained an Essex County motorist who drives in Bergen.

Children rank among the worst offenders, said a reader in neighboring Clifton -- even when they're with a parent.

"Ticket parents!" he fumed.

Police often shrug when asked about their reluctance to ticket walkers involved in collisions.

As one cop explained, doing so is akin to charging a 100-pound woman with assault in a domestic dispute with her 250-pound husband. The ratio is even more severe between a flesh-and-blood 150-pounder and rolling hardware that tips the scale at 3,000 pounds. Penalties seem to support this attitude: a $54 fine for failing to use a crosswalk versus $200 plus 2 points for not stopping for a pedestrian in a marked crosswalk.

Because drivers usually stop for them and police often ignore them, pedestrians who habitually violate the law foolishly feel they're not risking much. But for drivers, there's the risk of a fine, points, a lot of explaining, and maybe the loss of a license and an enforced change of address if the victim dies.

"A big part of the problem is that too many pedestrians just don't know the law," said Fair Lawn Patrolman Tim Franco, who heads the New Jersey Police Traffic Officers Association.

Franco acknowledges that pedestrian education falls mostly to police. "But how do we do it effectively?" he asked.

Normally, warnings backed up with the threat of tickets can be as effective as ticketing, he said, but he has plenty of doubts about whether this approach is working on pedestrians:

Are the recent figures an aberration? …

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