New Jersey lawmakers approved legislation Thursday to fund pedestrian safety improvements with higher traffic fines.
The Assembly voted 45-22, with two abstentions, to pass the bill, which seeks to increase fines for traffic violations involving pedestrians at intersections from the current range of $54 to $200 up to a uniform $250.
Under the bill, $150 of each fine would be dedicated to a pedestrian safety and education fund, and $50 would be reserved for safety improvements or initiatives along so-called “high-priority roadways,” defined as roads where four or more pedestrian fatalities have occurred in the previous calendar year or more than eight in the last three years.
Among the highways that could qualify is Route 130. Four pedestrians were killed on the highway last year, and two so far this year, according to New Jersey State Police statistics.
A fiscal analysis by the Office of Legislative Services was unable to estimate how much revenue the proposed change would raise for the safety initiatives.
The bill also gives judges more discretion to impose community service, jail time or license suspensions on motorists who injure walkers or bicyclists.
Increasing the penalties for careless drivers who injure or kill pedestrians and other so-called “vulnerable users” has been recommended by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a nonprofit group that advocates for transportation improvements in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
The group has named Burlington County’s stretch of Route 130 as the state’s most dangerous road for walkers each of the last five years based on its high death toll.
The most recent designation was based on nine deaths that occurred on the county’s stretch between 2011 and 2013. Two pedestrians died in 2011, six in 2012 and one in 2013.
Assemblyman Troy Singleton, who co-sponsored the measure with colleague Herb Conaway, said the bill could help make Route 130 and other highways safer.
“There are many roads throughout our state that remain very pedestrian-unfriendly. However, Route 130 in Burlington County has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the most dangerous corridors in our state,” said Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra. “Since it was first constructed, changing demographics and population density have made it a hindrance to public safety. This will help raise awareness and boost education on pedestrian safety, while funding improvements to make many of our highways more pedestrian-friendly.”
Conaway said the bill finds a way to fund needed safety improvements and education that would benefit drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists.
“I think we’ve found a healthy balance here that will combine education with roadway improvements to facilitate both desires,” said Conaway, D-7th of Delanco.
Companion legislation sponsored by Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park, in her chamber is still pending before the Senate Transportation Committee.
In order to become law, both chambers of the Legislature must approve identical bills and the governor must sign it.