Understanding Road Rules for Pedestrians in NJ

LIFE IN NEW JERSEY: One of the more vexing challenges for expats learning NJ road rules, is understanding how the rules apply to pedestrians. Sure, this may sound straight forward but American rules and practices differ somewhat to how things are elsewhere, at least compared with Australia. Perhaps some proof of this is that the number of pedestrian deaths in Australia (proportional to our much smaller population) is quite a bit lower. The large gap between our countries’ pedestrian death-rate is due to: 

  • a larger road death-rate per 100,000 in the US, and
  • a higher proportion of pedestrians as part of total road deaths in the US (pedestrians make up ~16% of total deaths from road accidents).

Pedestrian deaths in the USA  have recently hiked upwards to levels not seen for nearly 30 years. This worrying US trend has been potentially ascribed to increasing numbers of larger cars like SUVs on the road that can make pedestrian injuries worse when hit, as well as use of smartphones while driving, and distracted walkers.

US Pedestrian Fatalities 1990 – 2018. Graph adapted from Streets Blog USA: https://usa.streetsblog.org/2019/03/01/pedestrian-deaths-reach-another-high-drivers-entirely-to-blame/

Road rules in NJ understandably do tend to value pedestrians above the driver, in most cases it seems. However, a big part of the problem in NJ is that both drivers and pedestrians in NJ do not follow the rules very well.

Drivers and pedestrians in NJ both break the Rules

The most common behaviours include:

  1. Drivers often do not give way to pedestrians, even when they legally should. To be more specific, they often do not stop for crosswalks unless there is a traffic light displayed that is turning red. Cars driving through marked crosswalks without traffic lights e.g. a zebra crossing, may not stop, even if you are halfway across the road!
nj drivers do not like stopping at crosswalks

The pedestrian walks across the road on a marked crosswalk with one, then two cars not bothering to stop also while the pedestrian is crossing.

  1. Pedestrians can wander or even just step out onto a road, with or without a pedestrian crossing unconcerned about driver rights or what is practical in regard to a stopping distance for a car. This includes distracted people talking on their mobile phones and those who think a pedestrian crossing is unrelated to the traffic lights and pedestrian signals operating there – a crosswalk is a crosswalk at any time, regardless of traffic signals. Additionally, you have other pedestrians who step out in front of moving cars, in driveways, in traffic lanes near supermarkets etc., because they feel they have the right of way – always. Sometimes they don’t even look before walking out, assuming no-one will run them over…

Since both drivers and pedestrians in NJ break the rules frequently, it is hard to know what is legal, what is acceptable and how the laws will be interpreted if you are in an accident.

NJ drivers drive through pedestrian crosswalks

Car sneaks through pedestrian crossing to turn right while pedestrian is crossing

What are the driver rules about pedestrians in NJ?

The three major rules that drivers must follow above all else are:

  • MOTORISTS in New Jersey must stop for pedestrians in a marked crosswalk and they must remain stopped until the pedestrian has left the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling or onto which it is turning.
  • Motorists must also give way to pedestrians in an unmarked crosswalk.
  • Motorists mustn’t overtake another vehicle stopped to let pedestrians cross.

Drivers are also cautioned to watch for pedestrians when turning right on a red light (pedestrian side).

pedestrian crossing NJ

NJ marked crossway or pedestrian crossing

A crosswalk is defined in the US as the part of the road at intersections where people may cross. Marked crosswalks are usually indicated by zebra crossing or tram lines or other marks such as slanted stripes. In Australia, we usually refer to marked crosswalks as pedestrian crossings.  These most commonly occur at traffic lights or stop sign intersections. Marked crosswalks may occur elsewhere such as at locations where there is no intersection, as indicated by markings e.g. zebra crossings or tramlines.

Marked crossing at intersection of a secondary and minor road near a school in Bernards Township NJ

 

Typical tramline crossing which is a type of marked crossing seen at intersections where there are no traffic lights but there are stop signs.

Unmarked crossings are considered to exist only at intersections. Unmarked crossings may be thought of as an extension of the sidewalk onto the roadway, crossing perpendicular to the road, and joining up with the sidewalk across the road.

 

Unmarked crossing at street intersection

NJ Law Statutes Relating to how Drivers should treat Pedestrians

NEW JERSEY STATUTE 39:4-36:

(1)    The driver of a vehicle must stop and stay stopped for a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk but shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except at crosswalks when the movement of traffic is being regulated by police officers or traffic control signals, or where otherwise prohibited by municipal, county, or State regulation….

(2)    Whenever any vehicle is stopped to permit a pedestrian to cross the roadway, the driver of another vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass such stopped vehicle….

Ref: https://www.nj.gov/oag/hts/pedestrian.html

 

What rules do pedestrians in NJ have to follow?

Pedestrians in NJ have a few rules to consider:

  • Pedestrians should obey traffic signals (Walk/Stop) at signalized crossings.
  • They need to cross at crosswalks within marked areas, if available.
  • If crossing outside crosswalks e.g. not at corners but at mid-block, pedestrians must give the right of way to vehicles.
  • Pedestrians must not walk on the roadway near traffic if there is a sidewalk available.
  • They should avoid walking suddenly across the road in front of a car when it will not have adequate time to stop safely.

pedestrian road rules NJ

NJ Law Statutes Relating to Pedestrians

NEW JERSEY STATUTE 39:4-36:

(3)    … no pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield….

 

(4)    Every pedestrian upon a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.

Ref: https://www.nj.gov/oag/hts/pedestrian.html

 

NEW JERSEY STATUTE 39:4-32:

(1)    No pedestrian shall cross a roadway against the “stop” or red signal at a cross walk whether marked or unmarked, unless otherwise specifically directed by a police officer or traffic control device.

NEW JERSEY STATUTE 39:4-32:

(2)    Where sidewalks are provided it shall be unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon an adjacent roadway.

Ref: http://bestreetsmartnj.org/laws/

 

What is “jaywalking” and is this illegal in NJ?

Jaywalking is a term used more in the US than in Australia. It refers to a pedestrian crossing the road illegally in some manner, according to the applicable road rules. For pedestrians in NJ, jaywalking may include:

  • Walking on the road near traffic when there is a sidewalk available,
  • Crossing the road at a place that is not a crosswalk (marked or unmarked) e.g. mid-block
  • Walking outside of the lines or marks that constitute the boundaries of the crosswalk, while crossing
  • Not obeying traffic signals at a crossing
  • Crossing a highway when there is a barricade or wall to prevent crossing.

example of slight case of jaywalking outside tramline crossing

Jaywalking is not consistently enforced, and at municipal level, there may be other laws that are implemented on a local level in precedence. As it is usually local town’s police that enforce these rules, how they are implemented can depend a lot on local culture and priorities. Interpretations about the legality of such actions requires a professional legal view, as some circumstances may be considered a mitigating factor that affects the case in question. If you are in such a situation, it is important that you seek a legal opinion from an experienced local professional.

Does a driver have to stop for pedestrians in NJ that walk out from the corner curb suddenly or not at a crosswalk?

When at Crosswalks: It seems very clear that if a pedestrian is walking in a crosswalk, drivers must give way or stop (for marked crosswalks). Even if the pedestrian doesn’t check the traffic first or is breaking the law by ignoring traffic signals, the emphasis is on the driver not to hit the pedestrian. The law even states that if a pedestrian is hit in a crosswalk, the assumption will immediately be that the driver is in the wrong.


When NOT at crosswalks: Pedestrians are required to cross at intended crossing points, not elsewhere but realistically a crosswalk could be a long distance out of the way, so of course there will be times that this happens. This is less clear than the rules above. If the person is trying to cross in a non-crosswalk area but standing on the side of the road waiting and giving way to traffic at the time, then it seems the law suggests you do not have to stop. However, if they walk out onto the roadway you are driving on, what is a driver expected to do?

The Onus is on Pedestrian Safety

Even though there are laws that regulate pedestrians (see Parts (3) and (4) listed above), NJ statutes also include a requirement that drivers “shall exercise due care for the safety of any pedestrian upon a roadway.” (NJ Statute 39:4-32.g.; 39:4-36.a.). This seems to infer that drivers have equal responsibility not to hurt the pedestrian. This is regardless if they have entered the road illegally or unfairly, requiring the driver to stop. To avoid being blamed for any ensuing accident It may mean that the driver has to take every reasonable action possible to avoid pedestrian injury. It seems sensible here to take the conservative approach and try to avoid the accident by giving way if possible, even if the unwelcome pedestrian has broken the law and it is extremely annoying. It is better to avoid any collisions for everyone’s sake. 

Locally, people here often think that pedestrians always have the right of way, regardless of what situation is involved. Pedestrians can just start walking across a roadway and demand that you stop because they claim priority. If you don`t give in to these pedestrian aggressors, you can draw a large amount of verbal abuse. More importantly, even if it may grate to do so, giving way to the pedestrian may avoid creating legal problems.

streetsmart_program

Street Smart – a NJ public education program about road safety

Luckily, in NJ, the Northern Jersey Transportation Authority, has developed a public education campaign to help increased compliance from both drivers and pedestrians, which seems a very smart move. The program called Street Smart NJ works with local townships to increase awareness of behaviours that cause traffic issues, and hopefully achieve increased safety for everyone.

Pedestrian Rules in Other States

Many of these same rules exist in principal in other states however, the details are different. In some states drivers are expected to stop at unmarked crosswalks, not just yield as in NJ. In other states, drivers are expected to yield to pedestrians at all times!

So if you are an expat, it is worth learning these regulations to avoid being booked for driver negligence rules. You can look up your state’s laws at the National Conference of State Legislature (NACL) website.

 

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