Jaywalkers, beware: Morristown police are taking crosswalk safety to next level

Pedestrian crosses Park Place outside crosswalk at Park Place in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Pedestrian crosses Park Place outside crosswalk in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

 

Jaywalkers, beware:

Your forays into traffic could make a dent in your wallet as well as your body.

Morristown police plan to step up enforcement of crosswalk safety by ticketing pedestrians who recklessly venture beyond marked crossings. And motorists who fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks will be getting summonses instead of warnings, Police Chief Pete Demnitz said this week.

PREACHING SURVIVAL: Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz said everyone must learn how to react in dangerous situations. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz, pictured in 2013. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“People are concerned with their busy lives, and their lives only. They are very distracted and don’t see what’s going on around them. It’s our job to wake them up to other things going on around them, for their own safety,” he said.

The chief said police have issued about 200 warnings and 25 tickets to motorists since March 11, 2014, when he told the town council that his officers would boost enforcement in response to accidents in which three pedestrians in crosswalks were injured within a one-month stretch.

According to the chief, at least 49 accidents have involved motorists and pedestrians since early 2013; one pedestrian was killed near Morristown Medical Center last year.

Initially, Chief Demnitz reported that nearly half those accidents were pedestrians’ fault. After closer scrutiny of the data, he said the figure was closer to 25 percent–still high enough to make him re-think his initial misgivings about ticketing jaywalkers.

Pedestrians who fail to observe crossing signals, or who fail to yield to motorists away from marked crosswalks, can be fined $54 in New Jersey.

Motorists who fail to stop for people in crosswalks can face  $200 fines plus court costs, two points on their driver’s license, 15 days of community service and insurance surcharges.

The town keeps a little more than half of each pedestrian fine, and less than one-third of the motorist-in-crosswalk fines. The rest goes to Morris County and the state, according to Mary Ann Dillon of the Morristown Municipal Court.

‘SIMPLE COURTESY IS LACKING’

The chief said he can scarcely believe some of the scenes he has observed lately on town streets. Mothers leading small children into traffic. Motorists blasting horns at the slightest provocation. Bicyclists riding two or three abreast down the center line of South Street.

“I’ve been around for 31 years [as an officer]. I’m on the street a lot. Simple courtesy is lacking, whether it’s driver-to-pedestrian, driver-to-driver, or pedestrian-to-driver,” he said.

 

Walkability is a key selling point for Morristown. But crossing streets has become a risky business lately. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Walkability is a key selling point for Morristown. But crossing streets has become a risky business lately. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

And motorists and pedestrians are more distracted than ever, according to traffic safety consultant Pam Fischer.

At any given moment, 660,000 Americans are using mobile phones or other electronic devices while driving, Pam told the Morristown Women in Business  last month. Some 3,328 people were killed, and another 421,000 people were injured, in 2012 as a result of such behavior, she said, citing statistics from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Chief Demnitz said his officers hear plenty of excuses from drivers stopped after blasting through crosswalks.

“Most say, ‘I didn’t know, I’m sorry,’ which I believe,” he said. “They’re definitely distracted.”

Ramped-up enforcement is not intended to generate revenue but rather, to change behavior, the chief said.

Pedestrians should use crosswalks, or cross at intersections, whenever possible, he said. Motorists should pay attention at crosswalks.

“The ultimate end game is to keep things safer for everybody. I hope for the people who got warnings, it worked.  It’s a pervasive problem.”

 

 

 

 

 



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