YOU READ IT HERE FIRST : Distraction is taking its toll in New Jersey, where driver deaths are down but more pedestrians have been killed — including a dozen each in Hudson and Bergen — since 2006.
The hit-and-run death of a man in Lyndhurst on Christmas Day brought the number of pedestrian fatalities statewide to 155 in 2009, the same number as three years earlier. Then came the Tuesday morning death of a cab driver in Nutley after he got out of his taxi following a fender bender on Route 21. That makes 156.
Last year’s figure was 138.
“We’re almost at the end of the year and pedestrian traffic fatalities continue to occur at a disappointing level,” said State Police Sgt. First Class Stephen Jones.
Authorities aren’t certain why. They do know that most of the victims are middle-aged people who tend to be physically active. But New Jersey also has countless miles of roads without sidewalks, literally forcing pedestrians into the street.
Beyond that, many of us can provide anecdotal evidence:
You still see plenty of drivers holding cellphones or texting or taking rights on red without stopping. We we also see pedestrians talking or texting on a cell, head down, as they head into or through crosswalks.
The progress of faster digital communication clearly has come at a price. With more on our minds, we tend to fall into thoughts of the past or expectations for the future — instead of looking both ways and crossing at the green, not in-between.
Ironically, last year was a 20-year low for statewide fatalities on New Jersey roadways, which State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes credited to “safe driving he safe driving behaviors that led to that decrease.”
This followed a nearly $74 million pedestrian safety initiative announced by outgoing Gov. Jon Corzine announced about six months after he took office in 2006.
The governor said the five-year program would focus on enforcement, education and engineering by cracking down on motorists and pedestrian violations.
To help stem the tide, some towns have used decoy programs, in which cops pose as pedestrians and ticket drivers who fail to yield in crosswalks.
The state Department of Transportation has done its part, with new sidewalks, crosswalks and pedestrian crossing — including countdown signals — throughout New Jersey.
In the end, though, it’s up to you, whether you’re being the wheel or out and about.
Here are some safety tips for pedestrians, courtesy of the NJSP:
- Stay off highways. Do not pick up or discharge passengers on highways.
- Stay in your disabled vehicle if it is safely off the traveled portion of the highway and await emergency patrols.
- Only exit disabled vehicles in the traveled lanes when it there is ample time to make it well off the road and to a safe location.
- Notify police if your vehicle is in a bad location before getting out to change a tire or perform other emergency maintenance.
- Only cross roads at legal crossings
- Do not wear earphones that impede your hearing while crossing roads or walking/biking near traffic
- Do not walk anywhere near roadways while intoxicated. Although not as dangerous to others as driving while intoxicated, walking while under the influence may be just as dangerous to the walker. As a sober person to give an intoxicated person a ride or a place to sleep it off.
- Obey traffic signals, such as “Walk/Don’t Walk”
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