Ocean City HAWK

In an effort to roll back safety initiatives for pedestrians and seemingly prioritize machines over humans, lawmakers in New Jersey have introduced the “Driver and Pedestrian Mutual Responsibility Act” which, if made into law, would give people in cars more leeway when they crash into people.

Introduced by Assemblypeople Chris Brown (Atlantic), R. Bruce Land (Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland), and Bob Andrezejak (Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland), the proposed legislation would walk back many of the pedestrian safety provisions which currently exist in New Jersey.

If the bill’s intent, according to its authors, is “to balance responsibility between drivers and pedestrians when pedestrians cross a roadway,” but it actually “removes portions of existing law … to require a driver to stop and remain stopped to allow pedestrians to cross a roadway in certain situations.”

That means pedestrians in New Jersey—including in shore towns, where the sponsors of this legislation reside and represent—would only be allowed to cross the street at designated crosswalks, and if they do not and are hit by an out of control driver, they are responsible.

Several years ago there was a law change in New Jersey that cars must stop and stay stopped before a crosswalk if there is a pedestrian in the crosswalk—removing ambiguity from pedestrian-driver interactions.

But this bill turns that clarity on its head. It would put pedestrians at the mercy of drivers who may not be following the law themselves. According to the bill’s sponsors, pedestrians are “prohibited, under the bill, from crossing a roadway until traffic yields to the pedestrian at a marked crosswalk or unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.”

Something interesting to note here is that this bill regularly replaces the word “stop” with “yield” in order to make things less clear on the street and take protections away from the pedestrian. “Yield” is ambiguous and does not provide clear language in regard to motorist duty, making streets less safe for pedestrians.

This bill, according to its sponsors, “removes provisions of existing law providing a permissive inference that a driver did not exercise due care for the safety of a pedestrian in the event of a collision between the vehicle and pedestrian within a marked crosswalk or at an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.

We assume there won’t be much support for the New Jersey’s “Injure a Pedestrian with your car” bill—but who knows? A similar bill has been proposed in North Dakota, which would allow people in cars to run over peaceful protestors and avoid responsibility for doing so. That bill, in light of the Standing Rock pipeline protests of 2016, seems to be gaining traction.

2017 has already been a tragic year for people on foot in New Jersey. According to the New Jersey State Police, 14 of the 23 people killed in motor vehicle crashes (60 percent) have been pedestrians (map). That includes 13-year-old Jenna Griffin, who was killed last weekend crossing the White Horse Pike and 17-year-old Dominick Cecere crossing Route 183 in Stanhope after getting off of a school bus.

If you live in New Jersey and are opposed to this bill, we implore you to call your Assemblyperson, and the governor, telling them rolling back safety precautions for pedestrians is exactly the opposite of what should be happening in the United States, and it is not the government’s job to prioritize machine safety over that of humans.

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