By now, children throughout the State are back in school which means more pedestrians and motorists are on the roads at the same time. In order to keep New Jersey roads safe pedestrians and motorists alike need to take extra care.
A nationwide program entitled Safe Routes to School (SRTS) encourages children either to walk or ride their bikes to and from school. Back in 1969, almost 50% of children traveled to school by foot or on their bicycles; today, less than 15% do. The SRTS initiative was intended to encourage children to get healthier, more active and less dependent.(1)
Another effect of the initiative was to cut down on motor vehicle traffic. In 2009, families across the country drove 30 billion miles to get their children to and from school. That accounted for 10 to 14% of the traffic on our roads. (1)
One of the key elements of the SRTS program is roadway safety education because, although walking or biking may be good for the health of our children and our environment, the increase of pedestrians and motorists on the road can lead to more accidents. In fact, for children below the age 18 in New Jersey, the leading cause of death is motor vehicle accidents. Since 2010, car accidents took the lives of 71 children in this State; 21 of those were pedestrians. (2)
Compared with the rest of the country, New Jersey has a higher-than-usual number of accidents resulting in pedestrian death or injury. (3) There are safety laws in place to help cut down on these accidents; they address both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Some of these laws pertain specifically to school zones.
Speed limits in school zones are set at 25 miles per hour during the hours children are present, i.e., arriving at or leaving school, during recess and any other time they are visible from the road. Violation of the speed limit may carry monetary fines and points against your driver’s license. (4)
Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in a school zone carries a penalty of 12 to 24 months’ license suspension, fines of $500 to $800 and 60 days jail time for the first offense. These penalties can increase to 20 years’ suspension of driving privileges, a $2,000 fine and 180 days’ of jail time for third and subsequent offenses. (5)
Children who ride the bus to school are also protected by traffic laws. Drivers know to stop for school buses flashing their red lights as they load and discharge passengers. What might not be so apparent, however, is what to do when on a multi-lane highway. New Jersey law states when traffic lanes are separated by a raised median or an island, motorists on the opposite side of the road are to slow to 10 miles per hour when passing a stopped school bus. (4)
Finally, motorists are required to stop for all pedestrian, not just school children, in a designated pedestrian crosswalk. Failure to do so can result in a fine of $200, exclusive of court costs, 15 days of community service and potential insurance surcharges, plus 2points against their driver’s license. (3)
Pedestrians have responsibilities, too, and now is an especially good time for parents to remind their children of these basic safety rules: always look both ways before crossing; use designated crosswalks; and obey all traffic signals and instructions of crossing guards.