ELIZABETH, NJ  – Continuing its push to lower New Jersey’s pedestrian fatality rate, the Street Smart NJ campaign kicked off its latest effort Tuesday, introducing additional partners and unveiling a new message to combat distracted driving and walking during an event at Union County College.

Street Smart NJ – coordinated by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) – is a collaborative effort between public, private and non-profit organizations that aims to change pedestrian and motorist behaviors through education and enforcement. The program, which began in 2013 with five pilot sites, has expanded to include 12 community partners this year, including the City of Elizabeth. Three additional Street Smart NJ campaigns are being conducted by two transportation management associations (TMAs) that receive funding from the NJTPA.

The Street Smart NJ campaign works. Evaluations in each campaign municipality in 2013 found that non-compliant behavior – such as jaywalking or failing to stop for pedestrians – dropped 53 percent overall. The campaign urges motorists and pedestrians to “Check Your Vital Signs,” because pedestrian safety is vital to the wellbeing of everyone in the community. The signs for motorists are “Stop for Pedestrians” and “Obey the Speed Limit” and the signs for pedestrians are “Wait for the Walk” and “Use Crosswalks.” This year a fifth message – targeting both drivers and pedestrians – was added, “Heads Up, Phones Down.”

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“Whether you’re walking, driving or cycling, it’s important for everyone to heed these critical signs – doing so could prevent crashes and save lives,” said Somerset County Freeholder Peter S. Palmer, Chair of the NJTPA Board of Trustees.

“Participating in the Street Smart NJ campaign this year will allow us to build on existing efforts to improve pedestrian safety throughout the City of Elizabeth,” Mayor J. Christian Bollwage said. “We look forward to sharing these vital messages with everyone who comes to Elizabeth – whether they are living, working or visiting here.”

“We are excited the City of Elizabeth has been selected as one of the sites for this safety education campaign, which will help promote safe travel behavior through education and enforcement,” said Union County Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski. “We’re hoping this campaign will raise awareness and encourage drivers and pedestrians alike to make smarter, safer decisions on the road.”

Crash data shows that distraction is playing a part in vehicle-pedestrian crashes, whether it was a texting motorist who didn’t see a pedestrian or a walker who stepped into traffic while on the phone.

“Five seconds is the average time a person’s eyes are off the road while texting,” said Mary K. Murphy, Executive Director of the NJTPA. “That’s enough time for a car going 55 mph to cover more than 100 yards – the equivalent of traveling a football field blindfolded.”

Sulisnet Jimenez, Principal of Public School No. 28 in Elizabeth, spoke about her school’s efforts to teach students the importance of pedestrian safety following a vehicle crash that injured a second-grader last year.

“Anything we can do to save lives and prevent injuries – especially for our youngest and most vulnerable pedestrians – is critical,” Principal Jimenez said.

The event also included a video presentation of vehicle stopping time and distance to demonstrate the importance of maintain the speed limit. At 25 mph, the vehicle stops in time and does not hit the crash dummy. At 35 mph, the car slams into the dummy with devastating force.

“Speed is a significant factor in the severity of injuries a pedestrian sustains in a crash,” said Dr. John D’Angelo, Chair of Emergency Medicine at Trinitas Regional Medical Center. “At speeds above 35 mph, the impact of the vehicle is likely to be fatal.”

New Jersey has been designated a “focus” state and Newark a “focus” city by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for the high incidence of injury and fatal motor vehicle crashes involving pedestrians. During the five-year period from 2010-2014, 736 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle crashes and another 22,006 were injured, according to the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety. Pedestrians accounted for 25.6 percent of people killed in vehicle crashes during those years, nearly double the national pedestrian fatality rate.

During the month of March, Street Smart NJ will be partnering with local officials to run campaigns in Elizabeth, Franklin (Sussex County), Hackettstown, Jersey City, Lakewood, Metuchen, Newark, Passaic, Red Bank, Toms River and Woodbridge. There will be another summer campaign on Long Beach Island and during the month of April, TransOptions TMA will run a campaign in Morristown and HART Commuter Information Services TMA will have campaigns in Flemington and Clinton.

Local police will join the campaign’s street teams and community volunteers to distribute tip cards, which highlight the state’s pedestrian laws and include the five “vital sign” messages. They will also use enforcement to help change con-compliant behaviors.

“Police will be enforcing the laws for the safety of motorists and pedestrians,” Elizabeth Police Officer Brian Clancy said. “We will focus on motorists who speed and fail to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, as well as pedestrians who cross unlawfully.”

For additional information on Street Smart NJ visit bestreetsmartnj.org.