Drivers must now move over when passing people walking and on bikes

Submitted by New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

A long-sought goal of advocates finally happened Thursday when Gov. Phil Murphy signed the state’s first law requiring drivers to safely pass people on bikes, scooters and pedestrians who are using the roads.

Murphy signed the law Thursday, that allows New Jersey to catch up to 42 other states and other counties that have safe passing laws intended to reduce collisions between cars and other road users. The bill had been passed by a 34-to-1 vote of the state Senate on June 30.

The bi-partisan bill is similar to the “move over law” that protects first responders on highways. It would require drivers to move over one lane when passing, if it safe to do so, or allow four feet of space between the car and the person being passed. If that is not safe to do, it would require a driver to slow to 25 mph.

“One great benefit of this law is that it tells drivers not only how and when they should pass cyclists, but also when they shouldn’t,” said Patrick Conlon, President, Bike JC, a nonprofit cycling advocacy group in Jersey City. “It carves out a safer space for cycling as transportation, even on roads with high car traffic, which are generally the most direct routes.”

The bill also covers pedestrians who have no choice except to walk in rural and suburban roads where there are no sidewalks, and people riding skateboards and people with mobility issues riding electric scooters.

Drivers would face a $100 fine and no motor vehicle points for violating the law. A driver who causes bodily injury could face a $500 fine and two motor vehicle points for a violation.

“The N.J. Safe Passing Law comes at a critical time for making our roads safer for everyone, especially vulnerable road users,” said Jim Hunt, Safe Passing Law Campaign Leader for the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition. “(During the pandemic) we have seen an increase in people walking, biking and rolling to get to work, to school, or to parks or take their health and fitness routines literally on the road.”

Meanwhile vehicle traffic has increased to pre-pandemic levels on roads, he said.

“This has resulted tragically in an increase in serious injuries and deaths in the state,” Hunt said.

Advocates cited State Police records that said bicycle rider fatalities in 2021 already match last year’s total at the same date. Pedestrian fatalities now almost match 2020 and are on a pace that could lead to a 60% increase in 2021.

Passage of the bill caps over 10 years of advocacy led by the NJ Bike and Walk Coalition, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Tri-State Transportation Campaign and the grassroots TEAM4 the NJ Safe Passing Law, advocates said.

Some of the advocates said they were cheering and overjoyed at the news, but it was also bittersweet because among those who have lost their lives to dangerous passing was Oscar Zanoni, a well-liked Metuchen resident who died in a Jan. 1 crash while riding a bike, his primary form of transportation.

“We believe this law can begin the change needed to eliminate deaths like Oscar’s as well as too many dangerous injuries on our roads,” said Debra Kagan, New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition Executive Director. “We want to thank the Governor and legislators for passing this groundbreaking law, and the many advocates and volunteers who worked so hard for so many years to make this possible.”

Supporters of the bill cited an increased pedestrian fatality rate that reached 9% last year in New Jersey, with 34% of those deaths among people of color, the elderly and people who don’t have a car as a reason why a law is necessary.

Lawmakers heard about close calls between cars and bikes from supporters of the law at committee hearings this year, including a retired Plainfield police officer who said he’d had more close calls from drivers passing too close to him while biking in the last three years than he did in 25 years as a police officer.

“It’s a simple law that protects our friends and loved ones, ensuring the ability to continue to share and celebrate life’s milestones,” said Janna Chernetz, Tri State Transportation Campaign deputy director. “Tri-State thanks the bill sponsors and Governor Murphy for making this law a reality.”

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Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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