With an average of at least 150 pedestrian fatalities in New Jersey each year, Assembly Democrats Robert Karabinchak, Lisa Swain, Sterley Stanley and Carol Murphy sponsor legislation to require safer practices by drivers overtaking or passing pedestrians. The measure was advanced by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday.
The legislation (A-5570/5571/5579/5656) would implore motor vehicle operators to approach people who are walking or riding devices such as bicycles and scooters with caution. Drivers would be required to change into another lane or leave a distance of at least four feet between their vehicle and the pedestrian.
“Far too often, a pedestrian’s death could have been avoided if the driver was more aware of the danger posed to people walking and biking along the road,” said Assemblyman Karabinchak (D-Middlesex). “We must mandate greater precautions in these situations to help keep cyclists and pedestrians safe.”
Under the bill, if a driver is unable to change lanes or leave four feet between themselves and a pedestrian, they must reduce their speed to 25 miles per hour and be prepared to stop. Drivers can only pass the pedestrian if it would not endanger the safety of anyone on the roadway – including the pedestrian and other drivers.
“Exercising caution when driving a vehicle while approaching pedestrians or residents on bikes and other vehicles absolutely saves lives,” said Assemblywoman Swain (D-Bergen, Passaic). “We need to emphasize just how important it is for drivers to slow down and give pedestrians a wide berth in order to prevent the tragic loss of life our communities have suffered.”
In May 2021 alone, several pedestrians lost their lives in crashes all throughout New Jersey, in towns such as Lodi, West Deptford, Vineland, Trenton, and Newark. Pedestrian deaths also spiked during the pandemic last year, with a total of 191 fatalities in 2020.
“Something as simple as a lane change or reducing a vehicle’s speed can mean the difference between life and death,” said Assemblyman Stanley (D-Middlesex). “Making these basic precautions mandatory will help promote and prioritize safety in a densely-populated state that has lost too many people to careless driving. As we start to expand infrastructure to facilitate healthy and environmentally-friendly activities, we must ensure that we are protecting the individuals and communities that enjoy them.”
Drivers who fail to comply with the safety precautions provided under the measure and injure someone would be subject to fines and/or motor vehicle penalty points.
“Safety is an issue that affects every area of our state, in both towns and cities from the north to the south,” said Assemblywoman Murphy (D-Burlington). “Regardless of when or where someone is driving, they must understand that caution will always be necessary when passing residents walking and traveling on bikes or any other mode of transportation along the road.”
The bill now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.