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Require NJ drivers to move over for the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists

Require NJ drivers to move over for the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists

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Distracted driving

In April 2019, police across New Jersey cracked down on motorists who text and drive (as in this Press photo illustration) during their three-week campaign.

Motor vehicles have been made much safer for their drivers and passengers. But in the past decade, those motor vehicles and their drivers have killed substantially more people on foot and riding bicycles. Every year, the death toll rises higher.

Pedestrian deaths have risen by 46% over the past decade, while all other traffic deaths increased by only 5%, according to statistics kept by the Governors Highway Safety Association. Bicyclist deaths have increased 36% since 2010.

Last year, the carnage continued to grow. The rate of pedestrian deaths per mile of vehicle travel jumped 21% in the first half of 2020.

Researchers said the main causes were increases in speeding, distracted and impaired driving, and other dangerous driving behaviors.

The Legislature last week overwhelmingly approved a bipartisan bill to encourage drivers to move over when they pass walkers and cyclists to avoid putting them at much greater risk of death and serious injury. If staying at least 4 feet from them isn’t possible, drivers must slow to 25 mph as they pass. A violation is subject to a $100 fine; if someone has been injured, the driver faces a $500 fine and points on their license.

Everyone who has biked along a through street or been compelled to walk there because there’s no sidewalk has experienced the menace of tons of metal whizzing by within a foot or two of them. Drivers already shouldn’t have been doing that, but the clarity and incentives of the law should help increase awareness of the intolerable situation. It will help strengthen lawsuits against irresponsible drivers too.

But the long list of attempts to get New Jersey drivers to adequately consider the safety of others shows that this won’t be anything near a panacea either.

More than a decade ago the state required motorists to come to a complete stop for pedestrians in any crosswalk, marked or not, without a traffic signal. The Legislature acted after Casey Feldman, 21, was struck and killed by a distracted driver as she crossed a street in Ocean City. Yet last week, just a block from where she was killed, drivers were still speeding through intersections past pedestrians in crosswalks.

The digital info company Life360 in 2018 found that New Jersey drivers are the most distracted in the nation — in other words, the most negligent of the safety of others. They were using their phones on average once every 4.7 miles.

New Jersey around that time urged people to report distracted drivers by calling its #77 dangerous driving tip line. Then police department enforcement initiatives issued more than 15,000 tickets for phone use while driving and 7,000 for careless driving.

We lamented in a 2010 editorial that New Jersey is “a state where aggressive driving and unyielding personalities are, like it or not, part of the state identity.”

Well, we’d like to think nowadays that state residents tend to be a little smarter (to survive in the intensely competitive state). Slowly they’re becoming aware that if they let the empowerment they feel behind the wheel steer them into avoidable destructiveness, it could not only end someone else’s life but ruin their own.

New Jersey is eighth in the nation in pedestrian fatalities. It is also one of only eight states that haven’t enacted the kind of safe-passing bill now on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.

One of those testifying in favor of the bill was a retired police officer, according to NJ Advance Media. He said he’s had more close calls riding his bike than he had during his law enforcement career.

The governor should sign the bill very soon. Then let’s see a campaign to make even distracted drivers aware of the law and its benefits.

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