The Four Commandments of driving in New Jersey
There are many rules to the road and they're in place for safety reasons to protect you and I and the many other who walk, bike, run or drive on New Jersey roadways. There are four situations in particular many of us come to face with on a daily basis.
Statistics put out recently by the New Jersey State Police and covered in a report by New Jersey 101.5 show some startling and grim numbers for fatalities on the roads at the shore alone.
There were 34 fatal crashes and 35 fatalities in Ocean County alone this year, leading the state. Monmouth County isn't too far behind, with 22 fatal crashes and 25 fatalities.
These tragedies have occurred for various different reasons and for different sets of circumstances.
With school starting, the rules of the road don't change — but there will be more pedestrian traffic and even some from an increased flow of school buses and parents dropping their kids off at school.
Here are Four Commandments of driving in New Jersey I've come up with, that if followed could lower the numbers above and make the shore a safe place for all.
Drive and walk safely in a school zone
It's the first week back at school, which means drivers and pedestrians should be paying even greater attention to their surroundings to ensure everyone's safety.
Lt. Ryan Roth, in charge of traffic safety with Berkeley Township police, said drivers need to pay close attention in a school zone with little kids running around.
"Be aware that children under the age of 10 may not be able to judge speed and distance very well," Roth said. "They also can't judge where noises are coming from very effectively until they're 10 years old and older. If you see a young child, be cognizant of the fact that they may not even realize the noise you car is making is coming from that direction."
Toms River Police safety officer Steve Schwartz added that drivers need to plan ahead and suggested even taking a different route to work if you don't want to wait in traffic.
However, if you do find yourself in a school zone, he urges safety first.
"If you are behind a school bus, leave yourself enough space so that if those amber and red lights come on, you can stop in time safely," Schwartz said. "Even though the kids are supposed to cross in front of the bus, be cognizant that some of these kids are little and don't know, and they may just dart in front of you."
Schwartz advises students walking to school to do so with a group of friends so drivers can spot them more easily.
"Dress appropriately and try to wear bright colors or reflective materials especially if you're going early in the morning," Schwartz said. "Try to walk facing traffic if possible so you can see what's coming at you, and if you do get to a crosswalk without a cross-guard, you always want to look left, right and then left again."
One more note for drivers that dovetails nicely with a bill introduced by Shore Senator Jim Holzapfel:
"Never pass a school bus with its lights on," said Schwartz.
Share the road and playing nice with other drivers
There's no reason to floor it down Route 37, Route 9 or any other road for that matter, or to roll past stop signs or fail to yield ... at an actual yield sign.
Jersey roads are not the track for the Daytona 500, although that seems to be a daily occurrence here at the Shore.
"If there's any kind of construction going on or any kind of delay, people start getting frustrated, and that's when they start weaving in and out, trying to make up that time," Schwartz said. "When they're doing that ... that's usually when they get themselves into an accident."
He said if you plan ahead and leave time, there wont be a need for speed.
"You're going to save yourself maybe 30 seconds in the long run," Schwartz said. "If you hit somebody and injure them, you're going to live with that for the rest of your life, plus all the criminal charges you'd be facing. It's never worth it. Just stop and observe the traffic laws. If you plan ahead and leave enough time, those things won't become an issue for you."
Walk safely on the roads
That goes double for those without sidewalks. And don't run across the road to try and beat oncoming traffic
"You definitely don't want to play chicken with the cars. You're always going to lose," Schwartz said.
He said pedestrians have the right of way at a crosswalk as long as the signal is in their favor.
"If there's a green traffic signal on Route 37, for example, those cars are going to have the right of way," Schwartz said. "You can't just dart across because there happens to be a crosswalk there. You have to wait for a red light and then for the crosswalk signal to activate."
He suggested a driver should hover his or her food over the brake in the event a pedestrian heads out without warning to avoid an accident.
"You can cross at any intersection that's not marked. Then vehicles have to yield to you," Roth said.
For pedestrians who dart across the road in front of oncoming traffic, Roth ssaid,ys you can only do so legally if it doesn't interrupt traffic.
"You can cross in the middle (of the road) between crosswalks," Roth said. "Legally you can cross without jay-walking as long as you don't interrupt traffic at all. If there's a huge gap in both directions and you can safely walk across without interrupting anyone's driving, that's legally okay."
Anytime you're crossing the road, make eye contact with the driver.
No texting and driving ... or texting and walking
Multi-tasking is a real necessity in today's working environment — but that's at work, not on the road.
Whether it's walking across the street or driving, that text or email can wait until later.
Roth said both situations, texting and walking and texting and driving, are equally dangerous.
"We're definitely seeing that as a factor in pedestrian crashes," Roth said. "People are looking down at their phone and crossing major streets."
He said officers can ask pedestrians to be more aware of what they're doing, but "there's nothing we can really do to force people to do the right thing."
Roth urged all pedestrians to think safety first, and be conscious of where you're going.
For a list of safety tips and laws, head over to the NJ Department of Law and Public Safety's website.
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