By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
In case you haven’t heard about the state’s new pedestrian safety law, Red Bank police are eager to fill you in, and probably when you least expect it.
They started off on Friday afternoon, when the head of the department’s traffic safety division, Captain Darren McConnell, ditched the uniform for a pair of khakis and a golf shirt to serve as a pedestrian decoy outside Riverview Medical Center on East Front Street.
The goal: to see who was stopping and who wasn’t.
The new law, which took effect April 1, says motorists must stop and stay stopped for pedestrians in crosswalks. Prior law required that drivers simply yield, but the state Attorney General’s office tightened it up in an effort to reduce fatalities something Red Bank has seen its share of, most recently when a Staten Island woman died from injuries after being hit by a sport utility vehicle when crossing Broad Street.
As McConnell crossed the street, he radioed to a handful of officers further east the description of vehicles that didn’t stop for him, and they in turn pulled cars over. At the end of the two-hour operation, police had snagged 33 drivers who failed to stop, but none of them got tickets under the new law.
Rather than saddle drivers with a $200 fine, plus two points on the license and 15 days of community service, police explained the new law and its repercussions.
“It’s more about education,” McConnell said of the decoy operation.
Seven drivers were ticketed for other violations, however, such as talking on a cell phone or driving without a seatbealt.
Even though police nabbed nearly three dozen violators, McConnell said there was a lot of compliance on Friday afternoon even more than he thought there would be, he admitted.
Among those who were pulled over, many said they knew about the law but had one excuse or another as to why they didn’t stop when they saw McConnell crossing the street.
“It escaped me,” said one woman from Fair Haven who didn’t want to be identified. “I can’t lie about that.”
Avoiding the ticket and fine was a relief to Joseph Placenti, who said he didn’t understand the full extent of the law. A Red Bank resident of 38 years, he was actually pleased to see the police out making people like him aware of the new rules of the road.
“I’m not glad that they pulled me over, but they pulled me over for a reason. It definitely serves as a reminder,” Placenti said.
Patrolman Beau Broadley said that most drivers know the law, but just haven’t adjusted to it. Campaigns like this one are one way to change the driver’s mindset, he said.
Not everyone got the attitude adjustment, though. One woman, as she was sitting on the side of the road waiting for a ticket to be written, asked one of the officers if they had anything better to do, like catch a burglar, Broadley said.
Though she appreciated the lighthanded enforcement, Sarah Brounstein of Long Branch wondered if the law can do much in areas where walkers and fast drivers mix, like in front of Riverview.
“If the drivers are driving too fast, then they really can’t stop,” she said.
Friday’s effort involved the use of officers on their regular shifts. Should long-awaited funding come through from the state, future efforts would allow the department to bring in officers on overtime to focus on the decoy effort, which is expected to be repeated throughout the summer, McConnell said.