Bill Looks to Toughen Penalties for Motorists Who Cause Death of Pedestrians

A NY-standard yield-to-peds sign on Roosevelt ...

A NY-standard yield-to-peds sign on Roosevelt Island, New York City. New Jersey drivers are now required to stop and remain stopped for pedestrians in crosswalks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Failure to stop for pedestrians in marked crosswalks may soon result in tougher penalties for some motorists. A panel of the New Jersey Senate recently approved a bill that would increase the penalties for drivers who hit and kill a pedestrian as a result of failing to stop at a crosswalk, moving the bill forward for full Senate consideration. The new bill would carry fines of up to $1,000 and a six-month community service sentence. Additionally, the bill would give judges the ability to sentence drivers to prison for 90 days and/or suspend their driver’s license for up to one year. (1)

Since 2010 motorists in New Jersey have been required to not only stop but to remain stopped for any pedestrian in a marked crosswalk. Current penalties for failure to do so include a fine of $200, fifteen days of community service, two points against a driver’s license and possible insurance surcharges. (2) Prior to 2010, motorists were required only to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. The law was changed after the death of Bayonne resident Mary Tait, who was struck by a car trying to pass a slower vehicle and several double parked trucks. (1)

Because New Jersey is so densely populated, the rate of pedestrian accidents, including fatalities, is disproportionately higher than elsewhere in the country, accounting for more than a quarter of all traffic fatalities within the State. The State’s laws were changed in an effort to reduce this number. (3)

Those behind the pending bill, however, believe current penalties are too lenient, especially when the accidents are fatal. The current law and the proposed change are separate from the criminal statute under which a motorist can be charged with vehicular homicide. That charge holds up, however, only if gross negligence is proven. The proposed change would allow for stiffer penalties, including possible jail time, without the burden of proving gross negligence. (1)

While it is the responsibility of drivers to be cautious of pedestrians with whom they share the roads, pedestrians also have some responsibility for their own safety. Those responsibilities include using marked crosswalks where provided (otherwise crossing only at intersections and not between parked cars); facing traffic when walking in the roadway; wearing reflective clothing at night or in the early morning hours; and obeying all traffic signs, such as traffic lights. Failure to adhere to traffic regulations can result in fines for pedestrians as well. (4)

Laws can help motorists and pedestrians safely share the State’s roadways provided both use common sense and heed traffic regulations – still accidents do happen. If you or someone you know is involved in a traffic accident either as a motorist or pedestrian, contact the personal injury lawyers at Ragland Law Firm for assistance. Ragland Law Firm is an 8-attorney team, conveniently located on Route 22, minutes from Route 31 and Route 78, in Lebanon, NJ.

(1) http://www.nj.com/hudson/index.ssf/2012/12/senate_transportation_committe.html
(2) http://www.nj.gov/lps/hts/pedestrian.html
(3) http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/04/nj_law_changes_rules_of_engage.html

(4) http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/commuter/pedsafety/

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