Safe passing law to protect pedestrians and cyclists takes effect today

New Jersey’s safe passing law, regarded as the nation’s strongest, took effect today.

The new law, which legislators from the state’s 18th district sponsored, provides unambiguous rules for motorists regarding when and how to pass vulnerable road users including pedestrians, cyclists, scooter riders, and others.

Senator Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. joined Assemblymen Robert Karabinchak and Sterley Stanley in sponsoring the legislation, which gives the Garden State among the nation’s most comprehensive safe passing laws.

The tragic passing of beloved Metuchen resident Oscar Zanoni, who was fatally struck in January 2020 by a tractor trailer while riding his electric bicycle on Route 27 in Edison near Vineyard Road, inspired the legislation.

New Jersey officially becomes the 42nd state in the country to enact some form of a safe passing law.

“Far too often, a pedestrian’s death could have been avoided if the driver was more aware of the danger posed to people walking and biking along the road,” Diegnan, Karabinchak and Stanley said in a joint statement.

“New Jersey ranks among the highest pedestrian traffic deaths every year, but with proper education and enforcement of this new law we can change that. Protecting cyclists and pedestrians must be a top safety priority.”

Under state statute, motorists are required to adhere to certain safety precautions upon overtaking vulnerable road users.

Those precautions include:

  • Following all current no passing and no speeding laws and moving over a lane if one is available to pass vulnerable road users.
  • Allowing a 4-foot safety zone upon passing vulnerable road users on single-lane roads.
  • Slowing down to 25 mph and being prepared to stop until the vulnerable road user can be safely passed when 4-feet of distance on a section of road is unavailable.

Any individual who commits a violation of the provisions that results in bodily injury or harm will be fined $500 and assessed two motor vehicle points. Otherwise, the violator would be fined $100.

“This law gives us the opportunity to build awareness and prioritize safety first, making our roads safer for everyone, especially vulnerable road users,” said Debra Kagan, Executive Director of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition.

“The New Jersey safe passing law is the strongest safe passing law in the country and with the increase in road fatalities and serious injuries across the state it comes at a critical time.”

According to New Jersey State Police traffic fatality statistics, 2021 was the state’s deadliest year for pedestrians in more than three decades with 222 pedestrians killed.

A total of 197 pedestrians and cyclists died on state roadways in 2020, accounting for 34 percent of New Jersey’s fatal crashes that year.

“Unfortunately, 34% of those killed on the roads are our most vulnerable users, who are also more likely to be people of color, the elderly, people without access to a vehicle and from low-income neighborhoods,” said Janna Chernetz, Deputy Director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

“New Jersey’s rate of pedestrian fatalities increased 9% more than the national average (in 2020) as 197 people in the state lost their lives walking and bicycling. In fact, New Jersey had the eighth highest number of pedestrian deaths in the country in 2020. The state must act proactively to prevent crashes from happening. This law is an effective and necessary step towards that goal.”

The safe passing law, according to Jim Hunt, a volunteer legislative coordinator for the NJ Bike & Walk Coalition, provides motorists with clear, enforceable guidelines about when and how to pass the most vulnerable on roadways.

“Sharing the road is incredibly important and something as simple as a lane change or reducing a vehicle’s speed will help prevent future accidents and injuries,” Diegnan, Karabinchak and Stanley said in a joint statement.

“Mandating these precautions is important in promoting and prioritizing road safety. As we start to expand infrastructure to facilitate healthy and environmentally friendly activities, we must ensure that we are protecting the individuals and communities that enjoy them.”

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