More than a year into the enforcement of the state’s crosswalk safety law, police in area shore towns have noticed an unfortunate trend developing: Pedestrians are getting dangerously overconfident.
“They feel like they can just walk right out without taking any precautions,” Ocean City Police Capt. Steven Ang said.
“You can see the skid marks from one light to another,” Long Beach Township Police Lt. Paul Vereb said.
The law, which took effect in April 2010, states that motorists “must stop and stay stopped” for pedestrians in a designated crosswalk, a change from the old law, which required drivers only to yield.
Fordham University student Casey Feldman was struck and killed by a distracted driver as she crossed an Ocean City street in 2009. Her death sparked the creation of the law.
Feldman, however, was crossing at an intersection with stop signs at each corner. The effect of the new law at normal intersections — where a driver might maintain a steady speed on a major street, not expecting to stop — has had some unintended consequences.
“Pedestrians are failing to follow directions properly,” Vereb said. “They’re just walking out in front of vehicles. It’s a problem we’re seeing more and more.”
Such behavior “is more dangerous than a driver not (fully) stopping for someone,” said Margate Police officer Michael Edge. “You don’t just want to walk out into the middle of the street thinking the car’s going to stop. You’re going to lose that battle. Don’t play chicken with a 4,000-pound vehicle.”
On streets such as Long Beach Boulevard, which has four lanes of traffic and a center turn lane, “People (crossing) are screened by vehicles, and children — people only 3, 4, 5 feet tall — as they walk out, they’re totally screened by cars,” Vereb said. “In the left lanes, the speed limit is 35 mph, and you don’t see a person until they’re almost right in front of your car.”
In such situations, he said, a driver will have traveled about 75 to 80 feet before seeing a pedestrian and go another 75 to 80 feet before coming to a stop.
Even when they do stop, drivers might be struck by those behind them. That’s what happened in Brigantine on Tuesday, Lt. Jim Bennett said; a car stopping at a crosswalk led to several rear-end collisions involving four cars, although no one was injured.
Law enforcement’s efforts to warn drivers to watch for pedestrians appear to have worked — Vereb said many drivers have stopped for people merely waiting on street corners. But the reverse may not have fully sunk in. Or worse, it may be misinterpreted.
“The public has to be aware (of traffic),” Edge said. “But they aren’t quite sure what the law says. They’re interpreting it in a way that’s going to get someone killed.”
The situation has been noticed statewide. Chief Christopher Wagner of Denville, Morris County, speaking on behalf of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, said there is “definitely a false sense of security.”
“It was not the intention of the law to allow pedestrians to blindly enter the street,” Wagner said. “I think the pedestrian law is problematic everywhere you go. With shore communities, there’s a greater impact down there because of the number of people visiting, but everybody (in the state) has seen that. I would agree that ... the addition of the law makes (pedestrians) think they’re virtually invincible.”
Wagner said the law was an important step, “but I agree that they haven’t gotten it 100 percent right yet in terms of education, enforcement, and discipline.”
Enforcement is made more difficult this year as grants from the Traffic Safety Alliance — which paid for many towns’ enforcement operations last year — have started to dry up.
“We have no extra funding available,” said Ang, of Ocean City. “Last year, we had complaints at 29th and Bay and 34th and West, so we utilized grant money. This year, what we have to do, before the summer’s over, is see the availability of manpower.”
The lack of funding has led to widely differing numbers of summonses issued to drivers. Long Beach Township did get some extra funds earlier this summer, and that covered about 75 tickets being issued during a two- to three-week period in June, as well as about 300 warnings for drivers not stopping or remaining stopped.
Brigantine, meanwhile, has issued only “half-a-dozen to a dozen at the most,” Lt. Jim Bennett said.
Edge said that while Margate is enforcing the law, assigning officers to work crosswalk duty during an already busy summer has been difficult.
However, some pedestrians said they make sure not to take it for granted that cars will stop for them.
“I’ve seen them stop in Ocean City,” said Kathy Zarr, of Staten Island, N.Y., who was crossing Ventnor Avenue in Ventnor. “Not here.”
“We’re from the city,” said her husband, Karl. “We’re used to getting run over.”
Bobby Zichelli, of Baltimore, was surprised at how quickly cars stopped in Margate.
“We just noticed that,” Zichelli said. “They’re more pedestrian-friendly here than anywhere else.”
“People don’t stop in Indiana,” said Zichelli’s friend Nathan Bojrab, of Fort Wayne, Ind. “You’ve got to be aggressive (there).”
Walk in to a street in Indiana, Mary Bojrab said, “And they’ll just hit you, probably — but I haven’t gotten hit here yet.”
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