S2894 – a bill that will require the state’s driver education course, certain new driver brochures, and the driver’s license written exam to include cyclist and pedestrian safety information – was approved unanimously by the Senate Transportation Committee on June 1. A similar bill, A4165, has already passed the full Assembly in the current legislative session. In my capacity as NJBWC Board Member and shareholder at Stark & Stark, Attorneys at Law, I testified in support of S2894. The NJBWC anticipates that this bill will reach the full Senate floor in the current legislative session, and looks forward to having the bill signed into law shortly thereafter.

Both bike riders and pedestrians face an increasing threat from distracted drivers as well as from our current road infrastructure, as the present design and layout of many of the streets in New Jersey are inadequate for safe biking and walking.

As a result, there is a strong need for laws requiring motorists to give our most vulnerable road users, essentially anyone walking or riding a bicycle, a margin of safety when being passed out on the road, as well as an urgent need to improve the education of our motoring public on how to share the roads with people walking and people on bikes.  This bill addresses the importance of operating a motor vehicle in a manner that safely shares the roadway with pedestrians, bicyclists, skaters, riders of motorized-scooters and other non-motorized vehicles, which shall include, but not be limited to, passing a cyclist on the road, recognizing bicycle lanes, navigating intersections with pedestrians and cyclists, and exiting a vehicle without endangering pedestrians and cyclists.

New Jersey presently has the nation’s second highest percentage of road deaths attributed to pedestrians and bicyclists – over 30% in 2016.  That is more than TWICE the national average.  Because of shocking statistics such as these, New Jersey has been identified by the Federal Highway Administration as a “pedestrian and bicyclist focus” state, and the New Jersey Strategic Highway Safety Plan (NJSHSP), released in 2015, designated “pedestrian and bicycle safety” as a FIRST priority item.

The problems in our state are systemic throughout our road network.  As such, all drivers must be made aware of the rights of people on bikes and those walking, and the duties of motorists to accommodate them.

The New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety specified, in its 2015 NJSHSP, that “improving roadway user’s compliance with motor vehicle laws, as well as their understanding and adoption of key safety practices that result in knowledge, attitude and behavior change” is an important short-term goal to reduce crashes and fatalities.  S2894 represents a significant step in that direction, by providing better education of drivers to the rights and responsibilities of pedestrians and people on bikes.

The state is making strides toward improving infrastructure through its Complete Streets policies, and through the adoption of the federal “Towards Zero Deaths” policy, which has a stated goal of reducing roadway deaths by half by the year 2030.  While that goal should be more aggressive and in line with the Vision Zero goal of no traffic deaths, in order to accomplish either goal, we need a comprehensive approach which includes education.  Changes in infrastructure alone are not enough.  By educating our NEW drivers on the need to safely share the road, we facilitate the creation of a new generation of drivers who are more aware and more conscientious.

S2894 places important emphasis on educating new and young drivers.  It adds important education to supplement other safety measures, such as the campaign to eliminate distracted driving – a very real threat to drivers, passengers and pedestrians alike.  Distractions such as cell phones, texting and even eating while driving injured an estimated 391,000 people nationally in 2015 and killed another 3,477, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  NHTSA also reported that in 2013, ten percent of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes. These statistics reveal a clear need to raise the awareness of new and young drivers of the importance of putting down their phones and focusing on the task of driving.  Both for their own sake and those around them – including those most vulnerable:  People walking and people on bikes.

The measures sought by S2894 will improve education and safety at no additional cost.  The NJBWC has worked with the NJ Motor Vehicle Commission in our capacity as chair of the NJDOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Council Sub-committee on Education, and have provided them with sections on bike rider and pedestrian safety for the Driver’s Education manual and the exam.

While there are specific educational campaigns in place that are directed at pedestrians and bike riders, such as the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority’s “Street Smart” campaign, there is presently an important gap – education of drivers, which this important bill seeks to fill.

The time to implement this is NOW.  The Senate Transportation Committee recently unanimously recommended the passage of Senate bill S2335, sponsored by Sen. Cruz-Perez, which made some similar recommendations in the education requirements associated with the increase in the number of hours of experience one must have on a learner’s permit before applying for formal licensure.  This already requires the MVC to work with other agencies to develop instructional guidelines.  The measures sought by this bill would seek similar adjustment to the educational approach and therefore it would be most efficient to adopt and implement them NOW.

Mark Davis, NJBWC Board Member