NJ’s ‘safe passage’ law to protect bikers and pedestrians faces education challenge

Summer is when people take to the streets on bikes, skateboards, scooters and on foot. But educating them and drivers about a recently enacted law in New Jersey on how to pass them safely got off to a slow start.

The state Division of Highway Safety awarded a $78,342 grant to a bicyclist and pedestrian advocacy group to create the Safe Passing 4 NJ resource website and educational program, which launched in May . But the division’s own website did not mention that website or a link to it until last week.

“It’s one thing to develop materials on the law and how to get the word out,” said Steve Carrellas, director of state policy for the National Motorists Association. “It’s another thing for the message to get out to everyone, especially motorists.”

The new law was passed in August 2021 and came into effect in March, requiring drivers to leave 4 feet between vehicles and people sharing the road on bicycles or on foot.

The law is seen as necessary to protect “vulnerable road users”, especially in suburban and rural areas that do not have sidewalks. In these cases, non-drivers must use the highway shoulders or the road itself.

The new law requires drivers to “follow all current laws against overtaking, speeding and moving into a lane, if a lane is available”. If sufficient overtaking space is not available, drivers should slow to 25mph and be prepared to stop, until they can pass safely ‘without endangering those sharing the road’ .

Violating these guidelines will result in the driver being fined $500 and two motor vehicle points, if causing bodily harm. If there is no injury, the fine is $100.

“In March, the Division of Highway Safety and the Department of Transportation launched a coordinated social media campaign to help raise awareness of New Jersey’s new safe passage law,” said Lisa Coryell, gatekeeper. word of division. “The Division of Highway Safety awarded the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition a $78,342 grant to conduct a public awareness and education campaign about the Safe Passage Act.”

Follow-up questions about why education on the new law was not highlighted on the division’s homepage or linked to the coalition’s resources website were not answered. .

“It would be nice to have a link to the resource center,” Carrellas said of the traffic safety division’s website.

The website was launched at the end of May on schedule. The only public announcement came from the NJ Bike Walk Coalition, a mention on the North Jersey Transportation Authority’s Street Smart safety website, and a tweet announcing it. Sponsored ads on social media platforms such as Facebook by the coalition followed in June.

The Bike and Walk Coalition is working on its own campaign with other agencies and groups to change that. Participants include the Association of Chiefs of Police of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority’s Street Smart Safety Program, AAA and NJ Transit, said Debra Kagan, chair of the Coalition.

“All of these partners and others are using their networks and programs to amplify messages about the new law,” she said. “The digital media ad campaign will run on the Google and Facebook platforms alongside our social media campaign and social media toolkit available to everyone from our Safe Passing Law Resource Center. “

Coalition-sponsored Facebook ads began appearing in mid-June. Other elements have appeared on TikToc, including encouraging users to create videos about the Safe Passing Act.

Last year, the state’s pedestrian death toll rose to 218, from 179 in 2020 and 27 cyclists died in collisions in 2021, from 18 the previous year, according to statistics from the police. State. The Safe Passage Act was intended to reduce these numbers.

But New Jersey law can be difficult to understand and may conflict with other laws on crossing a solid or double line to pass, Carrellas said. The NMA had been pushing for a safe adoption law that they believed was easier to understand. Proponents of the law have cited close calls and collisions with cars as reasons for including a specific distance.

“Rather than the multi-step conditional actions dictated by the new law, a law for safely overtaking bicycles and pedestrians must focus on detecting the road user and a simple choice of action to slow behind the cyclist or pass him safely,” says Carrellas. “That’s why we advocated being able to pass through a no-overtaking zone when it’s safe to do so.”

Carrelllas gave the coalition website a decent review for trying to explain the law, but said it was a complex law to explain.

“Achieving change in practice requires better law on which to base a campaign,” he said.

The Brain Injury Alliance of NJ has information about the Safe Passing Act on its JerseyDrives.com website. The alliance raised public awareness through a weekly social media campaign with the NJ Pedestrian and Bike Safety Coalition, Kagan said.

The Tri-State Transit Campaign and New Jersey Transit teamed up for bus ads about the law with support from the Valley Regional Planning Commission’s Transportation Options Program grant. Delaware, Kagan said.

AAA is currently running a Slow Down, Move campaign with billboards and videos at rest areas that will include the Safe Passage Act, Kagan said.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center at Rutgers University’s Voorhees Transportation Center offers Safe Passage Law resources on its website.

And the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police has “spread the word” and a number of local police departments have put information about safety legislation on their websites and on variable message boards, a she declared.

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Larry Higgs can be reached at [email protected].

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