Unlike motorists in enclosed vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vulnerable road users lack the protective barrier of a vehicle structure to absorb the impact in case of a collision. They face direct exposure to vehicles, road surfaces, and various hazards, increasing their vulnerability to severe injuries or even fatalities in accidents. To address this critical safety concern, New Jersey has implemented the Safe Passing Law, which specifically aims to protect "vulnerable road users," including bicyclists, pedestrians, scooter riders, and individuals using wheelchairs.
According to the NHTSA, there were more than 7,000 pedestrian deaths across the United States in 2021. Additionally, there's a yearly average of 800 bicyclist deaths across the nation. The Safe Passing Law responds to the risks these individuals face from unsafe passing by motorists. It aims to reduce near misses, injuries, and fatalities.
Why is the NJ Safe Passing Law so important?
The law, also called "Oscar's Law," honors Oscar, an individual reliant on his electric bicycle for transportation, who tragically died in a collision with a tractor-trailer. New Jersey experienced its highest number of bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities in 30 years in 2021. This number of fatalities highlights the urgency of enhanced road safety measures.
Under the Safe Passing Law, drivers must adhere to existing no-passing and no-speeding regulations and shift to another lane when necessary. Therefore, passing is not mandatory when the center lines are solid. If a four-foot distance isn't possible, drivers must slow to 25mph and be ready to stop, ensuring safe passage without endangering road sharers. On single-lane roads, drivers are required to leave a four-foot safety zone while passing.
What are the rights of vulnerable road users?
Bicyclists are permitted to occupy the entire lane and may legally ride two abreast, keeping as far right as possible. Pedestrians, in the absence of sidewalks, may walk on the road, facing traffic.
Some question the rights of bicyclists to use roads, citing their non-contribution to road funding. However, road infrastructure is primarily financed through sales and income taxes, to which everyone contributes. That's regardless of car ownership or usage.
Many bicyclists own cars. However, they often choose biking for shorter trips, seeking a more sustainable travel method, or for the health benefits of increased physical activity. Fewer cars on the road mean reduced traffic and cleaner air. For some, biking or walking is a necessity due to financial constraints, physical ability, or age.
How motorists should respect the rights of pedestrians, bicyclists, and other road users
Respecting the rights of pedestrians, bicyclists, and other road users is a fundamental aspect of road safety. Motorists can contribute to this by adopting various practices that prioritize the well-being and security of vulnerable road users:
- Understand and Follow Traffic Laws: Motorists should familiarize themselves with and adhere to traffic laws and regulations. This includes being aware of right-of-way rules, adhering to speed limits in areas frequently used by pedestrians and cyclists, and respecting specific regulations concerning bike lanes and crosswalks.
- Maintain a Safe Passing Distance: When overtaking bicyclists, it's crucial for drivers to leave a safe and reasonable distance between their vehicle and the cyclist. This buffer zone provides the necessary space for cyclists to maneuver safely if needed.
- Yield to Pedestrians: Drivers should always prioritize the safety of pedestrians. Even if a pedestrian is crossing at a location that may not be an official crosswalk, motorists should reduce their speed or come to a complete stop to allow pedestrians to cross safely.
- Stay Alert and Avoid Distractions: Being attentive while driving is essential. Drivers should refrain from using mobile phones, texting, eating, or engaging in any activity that diverts their attention away from the road. A focused driver is better equipped to respond to unexpected situations involving pedestrians and cyclists.
- Check for Blind Spots: Before executing turns or lane changes, drivers must diligently check their blind spots for the presence of bicyclists and pedestrians. This precautionary measure ensures that no vulnerable road user is inadvertently overlooked.
- Signal Intentions: Signaling turns and lane changes well in advance is essential. Proper use of turn signals communicates drivers' intentions to pedestrians and bicyclists, allowing them to anticipate the vehicle's movements and act accordingly.
- Exercise Patience: Motorists should recognize that pedestrians and cyclists may have varying speeds and abilities. Demonstrating patience and allowing them adequate time and space ensures a safer road environment for everyone.
- Respect Bike Lanes: Bike lanes are designated spaces for the safe passage of bicyclists. Drivers should refrain from entering or parking in these lanes, as it poses a hazard to cyclists. Respecting bike lanes enhances overall road safety.
- Avoid Dooring: Motorists should be cautious when parked alongside a road with a designated bike lane or when exiting a parked vehicle. Before opening car doors, drivers should check for approaching bicyclists to prevent "dooring" incidents. This practice ensures that cyclists have a clear and safe passage, reducing the risk of accidents caused by suddenly opened car doors.
Know your rights if you were hit by a car in New Jersey
While the Safe Passing Law helps protect vulnerable road users, accidents will still occur. If you or a loved one sustained an injury after getting hit by a car in New Jersey, know your rights. Speak to an experienced accident attorney at Shebell & Shebell, LLC. We'll investigate your pedestrian or bicycle accident and gather evidence to help you build a strong claim.
We know how to take on insurance companies and fight to maximize compensation for our clients. If you have any questions regarding your claim, we would be glad to answer them. Contact us online or call our Shrewsbury law office for a free consultation.