'Cops in Crosswalks': Pedestrian Decoy Enforcement in New Jersey
Source: Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC)
New Jersey experienced an overall 19 percent decline in recorded traffic deaths between 2007 and 2009; however, the number of pedestrian fatalities has risen recently and now accounts for 27 percent of all fatalities. This is more than double the national average of approximately 12 percent and poses a significant problem for state highway safety. Additionally, there have been more than 30,000 pedestrians injured on New Jersey roads since 2004. Children and senior citizens are the most high-risk group, but adult males between ages 40-59 constituted the largest demographic among pedestrian fatalities.
Over six years, total traffic fatalities have fallen in New Jersey by 18 percent. Drops in 2009 occurred in almost every category, including a 30 percent decline in bicycle fatalities, 38 percent in teen driver fatalities, and 23 percent in motorcycle fatalities. These trends are more significant when comparing them to the 15 percent rise in pedestrian fatalities in 2009 after a decline between 2007 and 2008. Furthermore, one third of pedestrian fatalities occurred in just three counties (Essex, Middlesex, and Ocean counties)and 80 percent occurred in ten counties. Between 2001 and 2009, there were 1,356 pedestrian fatalities in New Jersey and in 2009 alone there were 6,026 pedestrians injured in motor vehicle traffic. The increase and geographic concentration in pedestrian crashes demanded the attention of Division of Highway Traffic Safety.
Image Source: http://www.nj.gov/oag/hts/pedestrian.html
In April 2010, New Jersey amended the state crosswalk laws requiring drivers to "stop and stay stopped for a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk." To raise awareness of the new law change and in an effort to reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities, thirteen municipalities were awarded $8,000 grants of federal funds to participate in the New Jersey Pedestrian Decoy Safety Program, or 'Cops in Crosswalks.' This program, which ran periodically in April and September and will continue in some locations, placed plainclothes police officers in crosswalks throughout the municipalities. Local departments have the freedom to administer their own programs and were provided with free pedestrian decoy training and educational materials by the state. In many cases, crosswalks were selected based on the vulnerability of pedestrians.
Crosswalk operations involved officers monitoring driver behavior at selected crossings for periods of several days during different months. A common approach by localities was to monitor for two-day periods in April and again in September. Observing officers noted violations and called ahead to waiting officers, violators of the crosswalk law were then pulled over and either warned or cited. While issuing the warning or citation, officers also used the stop to educate drivers about changes in the crosswalk law by handing out palm cards with educational messages about the new law. Since the program is primarily done to educate, officers primarily focus on issuing warnings. In the words of Linwood Police Chief James Baker, "We wrote a lot of warnings, many more warnings than we wrote summonses...Generally, we wrote a summons when it was someone who had more (violations such as) cell phones and seat belts." Motorists who violate the law are liable for up to a $200 fine, two driver's license points, 15 days community service, and insurance surcharges. The law also specifies the responsibilities of pedestrians and sets out language stating that "no pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield." Pedestrians are also required to "obey pedestrian signals and use crosswalks at signalized intersections." Pedestrian violators face a $54 fine.
Through the first year of the program, initial findings indicate that officers have been successful in educating both pedestrians and motorists about the new law. In Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties, officers recorded 1,074 offenses between April and September - more than three times the 311 summonses issued in the same time period of the previous year. Similarly, New Jersey has thus far exceeded its goal of reducing pedestrian deaths, as the number of deaths from January 2010 to September 2010 fell to 93: a 19 percent reduction from 2009, which meets the state goal of a minimum of 1 percent reduction in fatalities between 2009 and 2010
Officers stated that initial stings focused on issuing warnings in an effort to educate drivers and pedestrians about the change in the law; however, efforts to enforce the measure more strictly increased as time passed. Still, the primary focus was on educating and improving driver behavior. One of the program locations (Ocean City, New Jersey) deployed decoys on two days in July and two days in September, resulting in 514 warnings issued to motorists and 506 warnings to pedestrians. Ocean City used the funds from the grant to pay for additional police time and paired the program with new crosswalk paint and 15 new pedestrian signs.
Initially, the program encountered opposition from citizens and some city officials who were concerned about the safety of the program and intent of the law. Northfield Police Chief Robert James said there were "a lot of people claiming they are not aware of the new law" and that citizens in his community were organizing a petition to rewrite the law. Accounts from several officers suggest that there was a significant misunderstanding of the law in some communities and stressed that the goal of the program was as much educational as enforcement-based. New Brunswick Police Lieutenant J.T. Miller issued a press statement to counter these appeals, stating "the purpose of the program is not to write tickets...We want motorists to learn about the life-saving importance of stopping for pedestrians, and being especially careful to look for them when making a right turn." Medford Police Chief Anthony Canale echoed these sentiments, remarking that "education and enforcement [are] mutually dependent upon each other. Remove one from the equation and the second is ineffective. Thus, the issuance of warnings and summons by our officers is necessary to achieve our desired effect of this program."
While the program continues to improve pedestrian safety through additional pushes in the fall of 2010, officers continue to emphasize the statement made by Red Bank's Captain Darren McConnell : "What we are really trying to do is to change the mindset of both motorists and pedestrians through education, not just here, but everywhere. Safety is a shared responsibility."
New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety
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Ianieri, Brian. (2010, October 4). New pedestrian crosswalk law resulted in more fines, more warnings, and perhaps fewer deaths. The Press of Atlantic City. Retrieved from http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com
New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety. (2010, October 1). State of New Jersey Highway Safety Plan: Federal Fiscal Year 2011: Executive Overview. Retrieved from http://www.state.nj.us/lps/hts/downloads/HSP_2011_Exec_Overview.pdf
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