In New Jersey, government officials have abused their authority — possibly even broken laws. The victims were ordinary residents of Fort Lee, just trying to travel along city streets.
Oh, did you think I was talking about Governor Christie and his staff?
No, I am referring to Fort Lee’s Police Chief. He decided to ticket “distracted” pedestrians — even though there is no law against it:
After trying pamphlets and brochures, he’s ordering his officers to ticket careless pedestrians on the spot. “They’re not alert and they’re not watching what they’re doing,” Police Chief Thomas Ripoli told CBS 2′s Derricke Dennis.
Unlike careless driving, there’s no specific charge for being a careless pedestrian, but Chief Ripoli said his officers are watching, adding they’ll know it when they see it.
Fort Lee does have a problem with pedestrian fatalities. It averages one pedestrian collision per week. But it is crazy to blame cell phones instead of the fast-moving 2-ton vehicles.
The family of Jerry DeAngelis was particularly appalled by the Chief’s emphasis on “distracted” pedestrians. Jerry was struck and killed while crossing an intersection on the way to church. The family believes the driver was not paying attention. The DeAngelis family writes:
We all agree that pedestrians need to do their part and are often to blame in these accidents, but focusing your campaign almost exclusively on the pedestrians, while ignoring the issue of distracted and reckless driving, is both short-sighted and naïve.
We are not interested in publicity stunts and public relations campaigns. As Jerry’s family, our motivation is to see fewer families suffer the way we have.
We believe your campaign needs to be better researched and more comprehensive. We suggest you look at a number of methods to improve pedestrian safety, but most importantly, Fort Lee needs a significantly stepped up police presence.
Many residents express frustration that the town’s streets are unsafe and point to the lack of law enforcement presence and effective action as a major cause. The consensus seems to be that drivers in Fort Lee violate traffic laws with impunity. Research shows that a greater police presence will be the most effective means for gaining voluntary compliance with traffic laws – far more effective than handing out ice scrapers and florescent umbrellas.
Clearly, education initiatives are important but all safety campaigns must be accompanied by strict law enforcement measures and an acknowledgment of the increasing numbers of distracted drivers contributing to these accidents.
An effective pedestrian safety campaign should begin with a realistic assessment of the root causes of these accidents. A zero tolerance policy for motorists who put themselves, other motorists, and pedestrians at risk would go a long way toward reducing the number of accidents in Fort Lee.