Chair of the Public Safety, Transportation and Parking Committee
Each year, as the Chair of the Public Safety Committee, I like to take the opportunity to remind everyone to keep their personal safety and the safety of others in mind, especially now that school is out for the summer. With so many children going to and from, and participating in, outdoor activities throughout the day, and adults, too, taking advantage of the longer daylight hours, let’s all commit ourselves to keeping safety at the forefront of our activities. In addition to practicing common sense, the following are a few important safety tips that I urge you to review and follow:
Remember, safety begins with you. Studies over the years by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety have shown that: “Most people understand the risks of distraction, drowsiness, impaired driving, and other risky behaviors – and they condemn others for being risky – but they refuse to apply what they know to their own behavior.” Adults, remember that you set the example for the children that may be watching you. Model responsible, safe behavior and the children around you will follow your lead. For example, when driving, are your eyes 'on the road’? Are you free of dangerous distractions such as eating, texting, and talking on your cell phone while behind the wheel? Are you wearing your seatbelt and obeying the speed limit? The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration recommends following the Golden Rule when driving – “Drive like you would want people to drive in front of your own home.” When walking, can you be seen by drivers? Are you crossing at the crosswalk? Are you a pedtextrian?
Do not be a pedtextrian! As Mayor Skibitsky recently pointed out in the “This is Westfield” special section of The Leader, “Talking and texting while walking has become so commonplace that the term ‘pedtextrian’ has become part of our vocabulary and safety experts, government agencies, researchers, and insurance companies are sounding the alarm..… According to the Pew Charitable Trust’s “Stateline”, pedestrian injuries are up 35% since 2010 due to mobile device use. A study by the Traffic Safety Research and Evaluation Group at the University of Georgia found that inattentiveness may be responsible for as much as 15% of all pedestrian deaths and suggests that the use of mobile devices while walking must be decreased in order to ‘increase the attentiveness of all people on the roadways.’ Cognitive distractions cause us to miss important visual and audio cues that need to be at the forefront of our thoughts in order to make prompt, proper decisions about our own safety.”
Pedestrians of all ages need to stay alert and be seen. Remember, while New Jersey law requires that drivers stop and remain stopped while a pedestrian is in a marked crosswalk, it also requires that pedestrians exercise due care for their safety: “… 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.” In addition, pedestrians must make sure that they can be seen. Wear bright colors or better yet, clothing with reflective markers, especially when it’s dark out. When crossing a street, use a marked crosswalk whenever possible. If there is no marked crosswalk nearby, cross the street at an intersection (which is considered an “unmarked” crosswalk). As the Mayor has previously advised, according to the Transportation Management Council Association of New Jersey, based on N.J. State Police data, improperly crossing streets is the single greatest cause of pedestrian fatalities in the State, a shockingly high 71%. Pedestrians, including joggers, are sometimes unaware that the State law does not apply to the “intent” to cross. That is, if you are standing or jogging in place at the side of the road, you must wait until there is a sufficient gap in traffic before entering a marked or unmarked crosswalk. This is a very important clarification because some not familiar with the law are under the potentially dangerous (mis)impression that drivers are required to stop when a pedestrian is “intending” (i.e. waiting at the curb or walking or jogging towards a crosswalk) to cross. Don’t rely solely on traffic signals and don’t assume drivers see you – always look first before crossing no matter what. Walk on sidewalks whenever possible. If there is no sidewalk, walk as close as possible to the side of the road and face traffic.
Drivers must expand their field of vision when approaching crosswalks and intersections. In the State of New Jersey, a crosswalk is defined as an extension of the road, sidewalk, curb or edge of the shoulder at an intersection for people on foot. That means that there is a crosswalk at every intersection, whether it is marked or unmarked. When stopping for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, stop two car lengths back so that drivers behind you and in other lanes can also see the pedestrian in time to stop. When approaching a stopped vehicle, assume it is stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross. (You may not be able to see the pedestrian(s) at first if they are in front of the stopped vehicle.) NEVER pass a vehicle that is stopped for a pedestrian. When you are making a turn, you may have waited for a gap in traffic. While waiting for the gap, pedestrians may have entered the crosswalk, so be sure to check first before turning.
Do not park a vehicle within 25’ of a crosswalk or an intersection. Most drivers are aware of the State law (Title 39) that prohibits parking within 50’ of a STOP sign, within 10’ of a fire hydrant, on a sidewalk, or directly in front of a driveway, but many are seemingly unaware that the same State statute prohibits parking within 25' of a crosswalk or an intersection. The State law originates from the need to create a clear sight triangle area at approaches to intersections and/or crosswalks (and is based on the same reasoning why we teach our children to never, ever enter the street from between two parked cars). This triangle is intended to eliminate visual obstructions for drivers and pedestrians alike and allows both to observe and react to each other. When a vehicle parks on or too close to a marked crosswalk or intersection (an unmarked crosswalk), it affects the driver's line of sight and places pedestrians at a much greater risk.
Share the road. Remember that cyclists, skateboarders and inline skaters have the same rights under New Jersey law as a moving motor vehicle and, therefore, they also have the same responsibilities. “Sharing the road” applies to everyone who uses the road - operators of motor vehicles, cyclists, skateboarders, skaters and pedestrians - and includes knowing and following all the rules of the road. Stay informed by reviewing the chapter about “Sharing the Road with Others”.
Two areas in particular involving children require the special attention of the adults caring for them.
First, make sure children are safe in and around cars. Walk around your car before backing up. Look for children and toys. Watch for children walking or riding bicycles, tricycles or scooters on the sidewalk when pulling in or out of your driveway. Make sure that young children are properly restrained in a car seat designed for your child’s age, height and weight and that all other passengers are wearing a seat belt. Lock power windows from the driver’s seat. Never let children play in the trunk of a car and never leave a child alone in a car. In addition to the dangers posed by leaving a child unsupervised, according to the National Safety Council, even in temperatures as low as 70 degrees, the vehicle can reach life threatening temperatures in just minutes (children overheat four times faster than adults), and leaving a window open does not help!
Second, actively watch children at all times around a pool. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that an adult should always be in the water and within an arm’s reach to provide “touch supervision” for infants and toddlers. For older children, an adult should be paying constant attention and be free from distractions such as talking on the phone and tending to chores. If you have a pool in your yard, remember it must be surrounded by a 6 foot solid fence (except the part between the house and pool may be open if applicable).
For more safety tips, check out the Mayor’s Safety Library on the Town’s website, www.westfieldnj.gov. In closing, Mayor Skibitsky, my fellow Council members, and I would like to wish all our residents a happy and safe summer and offer our thanks in advance for making your safety and the safety of others a top priority.