April 5, 2016 – If police catch you texting your BFF, while walking across the street, tell them you’ll BRB because that message could get you a ticket.
The proposed legislation was introduced the same month that a safety program was expanded to include warnings against distracted driving and walking, as safety officials and lawmakers try to keep up with technology that increasing demands our attention.
The bill would fine pedestrians $50, if they are found guilty of using a handheld phone or texting while crossing the street. The legislation was proposed by Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden, who cited a national increase in collisions between cars and pedestrians who were using phones while walking, as the reason for the bill.
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“Distracted pedestrians, like distracted drivers, present a potential danger to themselves and drivers on the road,” she said in a statement. “As people’s behaviors change so must our policy.”
The proposed bill carries the same penalty as jaywalking and half the fine would be allocated to safety education about the dangers of walking and texting.
A Governor’s Highway Safety Association study released earlier this month estimates that pedestrian deaths would spike by 10 percent in 2015. So far, 32 pedestrians have been killed statewide in 2016, and a total of 170 pedestrians died in 2015, according to State Police statistics.
The Street Smart pedestrian safety program also adds a similar new warning for drivers and pedestrians about being distracted by using cell phones or other electronic devices. The program was expanded to seven more cities and towns across the state to total 12 municipalities participating in the program.
“This is an intoxicant,” said Dr. John D’Angelo, head of emergency medicine at Trinitas Regional Medical Center in Elizabeth, holding up a cell phone after a Street Smart event held at Union County College in early March. “It’s worse than alcohol or drugs for drivers and pedestrians. They’re less aware (of what’s going on around them).”
“Heads up, phones down” is the latest warning added to the educational program being launched by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority this year in in Elizabeth, Franklin, Sussex County, Metuchen, Passaic, Red Bank, Toms River and Long Beach Island.
D’Angelo said an increase of 15 mph in speed can be the difference between a pedestrian surviving and being fatally injured in a collision with a car.
NJTPA officials secured Federal Highway Administration money for the Street Smart program. The FHWA identified New Jersey as a state requiring added focus because of pedestrian injuries and fatalities which are almost double the national average, said Mary K. Murphy, NJTPA executive director.
In the four municipalities where Street Smart was started, jaywalking and other unsafe behavior was reduced by 53 percent, Murphy said
“We’re working toward zero deaths,” Murphy said.
Joyce Vence of Elizabeth said she supports the program in the hopes that it could prevent a death. Her mother Helen Kulesh, 89, was struck and killed by a car as she was crossing the street in a crosswalk on Feb. 1, 2006. Kulesh had the green light and a judge ruled the driver was distracted by a phone, while making a left turn.
Vence joined two other families who lost loved ones to pedestrian fatalities and successfully campaigned for a state law that imposes criminal charges on a driver who is using a hand held electronic device and seriously injures or kills another person.
“Awareness is the key. If you are aware of your surroundings and what could happen, I don’t believe a person would take the chance of being distracted,” Vence said. “The life you save may be your own.”