TRENTON – A bill requiring drivers to move over or slow down to protect cyclists, pedestrians and others on New Jersey roads is due for a vote in an Assembly committee Wednesday, just days after its approval by a Senate panel.

The quick succession suggests that the bill stands a good chance of gaining final legislative approval in June, considering that the full Senate and Assembly could hold as many as six voting sessions each in the coming month.

The proposal aims to protect cyclists, walkers, runners, scooters and skaters, who combined account for 34% of those killed on the roads, said Sonia Szczesna, director of active transportation for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

“Recent data shows that New Jersey’s rate of pedestrian fatalities increased 9% more than the national average last year,” Szczesna said.

So far this year, according to State Police statistics, cyclists and pedestrians account for 62 of the 216 traffic fatalities in the state.

Jim Hunt, volunteer legislative coordinator for the New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition, said the state has laws for how to pass cars and trucks, for moving over to pass emergency responders and even one for passing horse and riders – but not for “vulnerable road users.”

“We’re calling for a 4-foot passing distance so there’s no squeeze-by,” Hunt said. “Instead, there’s comfortable room. No close calls.”

Craig Venson, a retired Plainfield police officer, said he never thought he’d be advocating for another law to enforce but that it’s needed.

“After three years of being a cyclist, I can honestly say that this law is definitely needed for safety,” Venson said. “I’ve had several close calls on the road – more than I had in my career 25 years in the city of Plainfield. And that’s the honest truth.”

Michaela Tsapatsaris, a junior at Ridgewood High School and four-time New Jersey youth road racing cycling champion, said that for a time she did her work inside on a stationary bike because it’s safer.

“Although I’ve been cycling for six years, I still don’t feel comfortable on the roads,” Tsapatsaris said. “Countless times I’ve felt the paralyzing rush of wind from fast-moving vehicles barely swipe past me.”

New Jersey is one of eight states without a safe passing law.

The proposed bill would require drivers to move over a lane, if that’s safe to do, or allow at least 4 feet of space. If that isn’t possible, the driver would have to reduce their speed. Drivers who violate the law could be fined $100 – or be fined $500 and assessed two motor vehicle points, if an injury results.

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Metuchen resident Wendy Kukowski said the bill would provide critical protection for those legally permitted to use the roads. Her husband, Oscar Zanoni, was killed by a tractor trailer while riding an electric bike on Route 27 in Edison last year.

“Please, I ask of you, do not let Oscar’s death be in vain,” Kukowski told the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. “Help us make the roads safe for everyone – bicyclists, pedestrians, your family and what little is left of mine.”

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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