Police snagged dozens of motorists for failing to stop for pedestrians in Caldwell crosswalks Thursday.
The blitz was part of an operation designed to educate police officers, but it turned out to be a lesson for drivers, too.
Some 45 officers from around the state came to Essex County to partake in a course offered by the Essex County College Police Academy.
After a morning of intensive training at the Cedar Grove police academy, the off-duty officers stationed themselves at two busy crosswalks in Caldwell — Bloomfield Avenue near Trinity Academy and Ravine and Central avenues. The locations were chosen because they are “uncontrolled,” meaning they do not have stop signs or traffic lights.
Caldwell Police Sgt. Michael Pellegrino, head of the Traffic Division, said 20 warnings were issued Thursday on Bloomfield Avenue, where he said an average of 37,000 motorists travel along each day.
Since April 1, 2010, motorists in New Jersey are required by law to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, according to the New Jersey Division of Traffic Safety (NJDTS). Previously, the NJDTS website explains, the law required drivers simply to yield.
The Field Operation
Under the direction of Safety Consultant Ranjit Walia, the plainclothes officers took turns crossing the roads and observing motorists’ behavior. Spotters radioed officers further down the roads about those drivers who failed to stop, and the drivers were pulled over and issued warnings.
Many drivers who neglected to stop, whizzed past the “pedestrians,” apparently unfamiliar with the state law.
“If these are the kind of streets we have, would you feel safe letting your children out?” Walia asked.
“When people feel safe, we have more of a feeling of community," he added. “We don’t want this to be normal, we want normal to be a safe feeling.”
Making a Difference
Earlier at the police academy, Coordinator Arnold Anderson, a retired Vehicular Homicide Detective for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, said he has conducted pilot operations in the past in Montclair and South Orange.
Since those operations they have seen “significant changes in pedestrian yielding behavior,” he said.
When the operation was carried out in Montclair and South Orange, interns measured the yield rate, recording an 11 percent yield rate for pedestrians. In just six weeks of the operation, there was a 38 to 40 percent yield rate in each of those towns, Anderson said.
A Grave Issue
“Statistically, the New Jersey pedestrian fatality rate is very much above the national average,” said Robert Gaydosh, regional supervisor for the NJDHTS. “It’s a major priority statewide and it’s a quality of life and safety issue. The purpose is to give officers hands-on tools in addressing this issue.”
About 24 percent of motor vehicle fatalities in New Jersey involve pedestrians, according to Gaydosh. There are an average of 600 vehicular-related fatalities a year, 150 of which involve pedestrians.
“Part of the problem is that no one ever explains crosswalk laws,” said Walia to the gathered officers. “Did they ever teach [you] when you got your driver's license? No. Did they ever teach it at the Police Academy? No.”
Part of the problem is distracted drivers, said Gadosh. Not only are drivers distracted at the wheel by their electronic devices, he said, but the same goes for pedestrians.
“Drivers who are talking or texting are not paying full attention to the road,” he said. “The same holds true for pedestrians. It’s not all about the drivers, it’s a shared responsibility.”