‘Street Smart NJ’ campaign reaches Jersey Shore
Harvey Cedars--Between 2010 and 2014 nearly 740 pedestrians were fatally wounded in car crashes in addition to over 22,000 injuries in New Jersey, according to the NJ Division of Highway Traffic Safety. These stats are reason New Jersey is deemed a "focus" state by the Federal Highway Administration and brings to the front the public education campaign known as Street Smart NJ.
The North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) put into motion the Street Smart NJ awareness campaign into Shore communities for the first time in hopes of expanding their reach.
On Wednesday in the Harvey Cedars section of Long Beach Island the summer campaign is launched along with several shore partners.
"The campaign aims to raise awareness for both pedestrians and motorists." said NJPTA Executive Director Mary K. Murphy. "Enforce the laws and change the behaviors so that we can see a reduction in a number of pedestrian crashes and fatalities in our state."
Originally stared in Newark, Jersey City, Hackettstown and Woodbridge officials with NJPTA expanded into the shore and beyond this past March entering the towns Lakewood, Toms River, Red Bank, Franklin, Elizabeth, Metuchen, and Passaic.
Now the program continues to grow and NJPTA officials hope to expand the Street Smart campaign across the entire state and the summer forum begins in Harvey Cedars.
"We kind of live in two different places," said Michael Garofalo, Harvey Cedars Public Safety Commissioner. "We have our summer season which is upon us right now with thousands and thousands of people that will be coming across the bridge but we also have our winter season which isn't quite as sleepy as is used to be."
Garofalo adds the one constant across the shore is trying to keep everyone safe but is hopeful the campaign can help because it's about awareness.
"On a daily basis we have a wonderful police force and the men and women on it are vigilant," said Garofalo. "Their goal is keeping everybody safe here in Long Beach Island and this case in Harvey Cedars in particular."
This community is one of many shore towns which will be educated on this campaigns initiative.
"It's important to understand that people walking to the beach, to this park (Sunset Park), restaurants or downtown business communities," said Garofalo. "We need people to walk against the traffic, bicycles flow with the traffic. We want our bicyclists to know they should obey the traffic laws as well."
He says the important thing in keeping everyone safe on the island is to remain vigilant and keep reinforcing it.
"This program is going to be very important to help get that ball rolling," Garofalo adds. "Participating in this will help us raise that awareness and keep that awareness in front of everybody. Mostly just keep everybody safe this summer."
Approximately 140 people are killed and almost 6,000 injured from motor vehicle crashes annually in the state of New Jersey and the fatality rate here at almost 25 percent in 2013, is just about double the national average (14 percent) according to the FHA.
From a very early age our parents always tell us to look both ways before crossing the street, and as we become teenagers so do our driving instructors which can go along way in keeping people safe.
Both distracted driving and distracted walking lead to motor vehicle injuries and fatalities and some shore residents weigh in on their concern for pedestrian safety.
"I do see that quite a lot where people when they're walking and texting at the same time," said Dina from Long Beach Township. "They're not watching where they're going, not only here but everywhere, in the cities, on the beaches, in the streets...also in the car on their way to work."
"I think it's the texting, I see it, I travel from the mainland over to here everyday," said Bill from Galloway. "I see people texting all the time, I wish I could pull them over myself but you can't. It's not just the texting, you can see them scrolling and they're on Facebook, they're on Twitter or whatever and I think that's probably the biggest thing."
However there is some optimism with the safety campaign reaching the shore.
"It definitely can't hurt, it's a good start to make everybody aware," said Dina from Long Beach Township. "I think they have to also start teaching the younger kids."
Yet distracted driving is a trending concern here in New Jersey and residents are taking notice.
"It's up to them to be safer to help the pedestrians," said Bill from Galloway. "The pedestrians can only do so much. It's up to the drivers themselves."
He says if you need to make that text or call just pullover or just put the phone down.
Retired Long Beach Township Police Captain Paul Vereb's brother was tragically taken from him following a car crash in the late 1980's where he was hit by a car.
"I was supposed to go fishing with my brother (Memorial Day weekend 1987) and he didn't call, so we got a little concerned," said Vereb. "A day or two went by and (I) called and no answer and my mom started getting worried and said we should check hospitals or something."
Sadly for the Vereb family they didn't hear back from him and a couple days later they started checking hospitals.
"Next thing you know I call University Hospital in Newark and they answered and put me right into the Intensive care doctor that was on duty in the brain injury ward," said Vereb. "He's asking me to describe my brother. Probably four minutes into the conversation he says 'can you get up here as soon as possible?'"
The doctor said his brother may be in ICU and wasn't sure if he'd make it through the night.
"This story goes on for seven years, he was in a coma and it was tough," said Vereb who adds his family made frequent visits to the hospital.
"As long as I've been a police officer (started in 1987 full-time) I kind of used my job to try and help the community with getting grants and doing these ice cream tickets we had for little kids to wear helmets," said Vereb.
Vereb says you don't usually see the preventative stats because someone prevented the accident from happening so it's not a stat.
"What we have to do as police officers and retired police officers," adds Vereb. "You have to make sure your able to get into the community and teach the people that ya know...your out there, make sure your crossing in a crosswalk, make sure that that car is stopping."
Vereb says he strives to make sure his brother's tragic story doesn't happen down here at the shore.
"Speed does kill," said Vereb. "A pedestrian hit at 35mph has probably has a 10 times better chance of surviving than if there doing 45 (mph). There's a lot we can do to prevent these tragedies from happening."
With the Street Smart campaign expanding this summer around New Jersey, many shore towns are included in the education including Asbury Park, Bay Head, Point Pleasant, Bradley Beach and Long Branch and Vereb hopes the campaign helps people.
"Pay attention, make sure...don't always just think that that car is going to stop," said Vereb. "Make eye contact, do the best you can (and) wear bright colors if your out there, reflective vests if your out there at night."
Checking for vital signs is one of the key points officials want everyone to be aware of both as a driver and pedestrian along with a number of important tips targeting mostly people between ages 20 and 59 thus the forum for tips we all need to know.
"Motorists will see street smart messaging encouraging them to obey the speed limit and avoid distracted driving," said Murphy. "Our new message, "Heads up,Phones Down" will be at toll plazas on the Garden State Parkway."
She adds they're also working with NJ Transit to put up signs along the Jersey Shore.
"The ultimate goal, and it's a lofty one I'll admit is that no one be killed or injured," said Murphy. "There doesn't seem to be a better target to set than a vision for zero fatalities in New Jersey."
Officials and law enforcement are reminding residents to keep these tips in mind when driving and walking street side.
- Cross at corners and intersections. Use marked crosswalks where available.
- Before crossing look left, right, then left again.
- Use pedestrian buttons and begin crossing the street on the "walk" signal.
- Use sidewalks or walk facing traffic where there are no sidewalks.
- Watch out for vehicles turning right on red.
- Be visible at night and in inclement weather.
- Walk sober.
- Eliminate all distractions.
"We're going to also be interacting with pedestrians and motorists in an effort to get everyone to follow the traffic laws," said Megan Keller, Long Beach Township Police Officer. "Our law enforcement details will focus on speeding, illegal turns, distracted and inattentive driving and walking."