New Jersey Bill Aims to Strip Protections for Pedestrians

by | January 18, 2017 | Featured, research | 5 comments

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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  1. Joseph

    Well, I’ll be mobilizing around this. Thanks.

  2. Devin

    I would suggest that PA residents who visit shore towns in Atlantic and Cape May counties call these reps (and the cambers of commerce of these counties) to inform them that this legislation may make them consider another summer destination.

  3. John Baxter

    Agreed, the bill may need fine-tuning especially in defining “yield.” However, the flip side of this is that it may have been written, if imperfectly, with the intent to protect the pedestrian from his own foolish actions, while also protecting drivers from those actions (which seems reasonable to me). In Pennsylvania, signs at crosswalks warn drivers to yield (meaning stop) to pedestrians. The warrant for crosswalks states that the pedestrian must stop and make sure “traffic is clear” before attempting to cross. In other words, they must earn that right of way as we were taught in grade school. Unfortunately, no such signage is posted for pedestrians, only the ones that warn drivers to stop (or yield), and I wonder how many have died or at least endured terrible injuries because of that fact? Where is the balance or objectivity here? All the responsibility is foolishly placed on the driver. Chester County posted a sign similar to what I am suggesting at their courthouse after a woman lost a leg during crossing, and we now have stop signs for pedestrians where walking and biking trails cross roads. For gosh sakes, people, think this through! The New Jersey proposed law as written may need some fine tuning, but you may very well have it EXACTLY backward. The ultimate effect might well be to help pedestrians to protect themselves by tuning them in to what really should be their responsibilities, instead of making them feel like they are free and safe whenever and wherever they want to cross. And, as far as taking liability away when a motorist hits a pedestrian who is nowhere near a crosswalk: I hope this won’t encourage drivers to be careless, but it could and should help convince pedestrians to cross where it is safer because they are expected and vehicle speeds on average are slower. In New Hampshire, a pedestrian who is jaywalking is liable for the damage to your car. This is a little heavy-handed, but the upside is that pedestrians are not then lured into a false sense of security when doing something illegal and stupid. Note that in California where pedestrians are foolishly granted a completely absolute right-of-way, pedestrian serious crashes are higher than in states where common sense says both parties need to be held responsible, depending upon circumstances.

    • Daron Phillips

      Mr. Baxter, you my friend, understand. So many pedestrians foolishly believe that the “right of way” makes them immune to any dangers. They simply move forward in an autonomous stride falsely thinking that no harm will come to them and the magical force field of “right of way” will make everything safe.

  4. John Baxter

    At the risk of sounding totally hostile toward the Bicycle Coalition’s intent here, which I am not, let me say that this is all too typical of the polarized situation what has developed between bicycle/pedestrian proponents and drivers in Philadelphia and other cities. The basic belief system of those on the bicycle/pedestrian side seems to be based on an idea that the automobile is an aberration, a terrible danger, and that we ought somehow to return to the time before cars. . .something like that. I won’t dispute this basic idea totally, as I deeply respect the almost existential belief that we can and should no longer accept the tragedies that occur on Philadelphia’s streets. That attitude (that the car is an aberration) seems almost to lead to the further belief that the alterations in behavior that need to occur for this to happen all need to occur on the side of the drivers. What is missing in this discussion, often on both sides, is a feeling of mutual respect and community, and the very reasonable idea that if we all work together, and work both sides toward the middle, we have a much, much better chance of producing rapid and effective change. For one thing, if alterations in streets are developed together there will be less opposition from those used to the status quo. At the same time, we will likely also produce better results because we will be getting cooperation and awareness on both sides of the equation—working both sides toward the middle. In a nutshell, a greater percentage of the population will be working on the problem.


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