Why NJ lawmakers want to get rid of the stop-for-pedestrians law
TRENTON — More than 500 pedestrians have been killed in New Jersey since 2014, the most in any three-year stretch since the early 1990s. A new legislative proposal seeks to remedy that by shifting more of the responsibility onto them, rather than drivers.
Bill A4449, called the Driver and Pedestrian Mutual Responsibility Act, says pedestrians could only cross at designated crosswalks, ends a requirement that drivers stop and stay stopped for people who are crossing a street and doesn’t automatically blame drivers if someone is hit in a crosswalk.
Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, said the purpose of the legislation “is to try to bring common sense back to the Statehouse.”
“Throughout the summer and even into the winter months, there are numerous complaints and problems with pedestrians just stepping off the curb into traffic,” Brown said.
“What we have done is try to codify common sense and make sure that people use the good brain that God gave them before they cross the street,” he said. “And you would think you wouldn’t necessarily need to put some of these common sense items into writing, but unfortunately you do.”
It would reverse changes made by a 2010 law, among the last signed by then-Gov. Jon Corzine, which lawmakers had passed unanimously, except for one Assembly abstention. That law said drivers must stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, not just yield, and established a "permissive inference" that drivers are at fault in collisions with pedestrians at crosswalks or unmarked intersections.
The current proposal prohibits pedestrians from crossing streets at an unmarked crosswalk without a traffic signal or police officer if there’s one available within one block.
The bill was referred to the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee, whose chairman, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, sounds skeptical of its merits.
“I just think about it in terms of the relative equities. I mean, you’ve got a person weighing on average 150 pounds versus a car weighing on average a ton and a half. It doesn’t seem like we should be doing legislation to put them on an equal footing,” said Wisniewski, a primary sponsor of the 2010 changes.
Wisniewski was asked about the problem of pedestrians wandering dangerously into traffic.
“A lot of people who drive cars who don’t pay attention and just wander into crosswalks. Lots of people who drive through red lights,” he said. “Look, attention is important whether you’re walking or you’re a driver. But still, the policy of making cars and people equal on a street seems to be foolish at best.”
Pedestrians accounted for 30 percent of traffic fatalities in New Jersey between 2014 and 2016, a notable increase from past patterns. There have been a few years – 1997, 2001 and 2003 – where the share was less than 20 percent.
That trend has continued, and maybe even intensified, early in 2017.
There have been at least 49 traffic fatalities in the first five weeks of this year. Eighteen of those killed, about 37 percent, were pedestrians. Another two were cyclists.
“In the four years since that law was changed, nearly 10 percent more fatalities have occurred,” Brown said. “So clearly the change was not helping. It was making it more dangerous and making it worse.”
“It may seem simple enough, but I can tell you there’s been an outcry from my constituents, there’s been outcry from my mayors of my community, all requesting these changes,” he said.
The proposal is also sponsored by Assemblymen Bob Andrzejczak, D-Cape May, and Bruce Land, D-Vineland, who represent the district neighboring Brown’s.