Distracted Walkers, Drivers Focus of Safety Education Program

Jul 05, 2017

Life in a digital world is full of distractions. From the influx of information at your fingertips to the immediate need to respond to every text message or social media post, distracted people are everywhere – including behind the wheels of cars, on bicycles, walking and jogging. Being distracted on the roadways can end tragically.

That was the message delivered by Joel Feldman, founder of the Casey Feldman Foundation and End Distracted Driving, during a Street Smart NJ presentation last week in Surf City. His daughter was killed by a distracted driver while walking in a crosswalk in Ocean City, N.J., in July 2009.

“I don’t know what she did in those final moments,” he said, adding pedestrians need to be aware of what is going on around them. “You don’t let friends drive drunk. You shouldn’t let your friends drive distracted.”

Feldman said it took losing his daughter to change his own behavior behind the wheel.

“I lost Casey, and I changed the way I drive,” he said. “But most people don’t lose loved ones to distracted driving. They don’t realize the chances they take when they multi-task behind the wheel.”

Feldman is part of Street Smart NJ, a public education campaign coordinated by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority that aims to raise awareness of pedestrian and motorist laws and change the behaviors that lead to pedestrian/cyclist/vehicle crashes and fatalities. The Federal Highway Administration designated New Jersey “a pedestrian and bicycle safety focus state” due the high number of fatalities. With 28.7 percent of motor vehicle fatalities being pedestrians, New Jersey nearly doubled the national pedestrian fatality rate.

“We really need to talk about saving lives,” Acting Surf City Police Chief Jack Casella said, noting there were 34 crashes on Long Beach Boulevard in the borough last year and five of them involved a car, pedestrian/bicycle. “We want to make sure walkers, joggers, cyclists and motorists are safe when they visit Long Beach Island this summer.”

Surf City hosted the 2017 Street Smart pedestrian safety summer campaign kickoff June 28. It included a demonstration of the High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk ,or HAWK, signal at the Boulevard near the intersection of  25th Street. Ocean County installed the signal, which connects wirelessly with other traffic signals on the Boulevard to stop traffic and allow pedestrians to cross the roadway safely.

“As much as we do, there is a real responsibility on behalf of the motorist and the pedestrian,” said Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly, a member of the NJTPA Board of Trustees. “Let’s work together to have a safe summer.”

Feldman, who speaks about distracted driving across the state, said he is optimistic that things are heading in the right direction.

“The teens I talk to are calling distracted driving selfish driving,” he said, noting society needs to make distracted driving as socially unacceptable as drunken driving. “I’ve had parents ask me if their kids did it because they saw them do it.”

Between 2011 and 2015, 765 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes in the state, according to Mary K. Murphy, NJTPA executive director. That equates to one death every 2.5 days, she said.

“By the time someone wraps up a vacation here,” she said, “that means three people have died.”

— Gina G. Scala

ggscala@thesandpaper.net

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