SURF CITY — Joel Feldman had no problem taking his eyes or attention off the road now and then while behind the wheel.

But all that changed in 2009 when his 21-year-old daughter was killed in an Ocean City crosswalk by a distracted driver.

"If we saw someone stumbling out of a bar with their keys, going to their car, we would take those keys away. We don't let people drive drunk," Feldman said. "The way we solve this problem is making distracted driving socially unacceptable — just the way it is with drunk driving."

Feldman was on site Wednesday morning for the official summer kickoff of a pedestrian safety campaign in several Jersey Shore communities.

Street Smart NJ, coordinated by the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, aims to raise awareness of pedestrian and motorist laws in order to change behavior that has led to hundreds of fatalities and thousands of injuries over the past few years in the Garden State.

The campaign, which urges both drivers and pedestrians to "check their vital signs" when traversing the roads, will be on display at train stations and bus terminals, and on buses along the coast. Cup sleeves and coasters at shore shops and bars are marked to send the message as well, as realtors, volunteers and cops distribute "tip cards" to the walking, riding and driving public.

Check Your Vital Signs

  • Drivers are reminded to:
    • Stop for pedestrians
    • Obey Speed limits
  • Pedestrians are urged to:
    • Use crosswalks
    • Wait for the "WALK" signal
  • For both drivers and pedestrians:
    • Heads up, phones down

The program started in 2013 at five pilot sites. Evaluations following the 2016 campaign found a 40 percent reduction in drivers failing to yield to pedestrians and a 28 percent reduction in pedestrians jaywalking or crossing against the signals.

"We realize these campaigns need enduring efforts," said NJTPA Executive Director Mary K. Murphy. "We need constant messages. We want these results to stick. We want them to improve."

The campaign kickoff also included a demonstration of a new "high-intensity activated crosswalk" at Long Beach Blvd. and 25th St. The signal, installed by Ocean County, connects wirelessly with lights at other intersections and provides voice commands to pedestrians.

Surf City Police Chief Jack Casella said the municipality will have no tolerance for distracted driving this summer season, and officers strongly enforce the rule that prohibits parking within 25 feet of an intersection. But pedestrians also play a role in keeping the roads accident-free.

Surf City Police Chief Jack Casella (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

"The driver's got one big requirement; they have to stop for someone legally crossing the street," Casella said. "The pedestrian's got a couple, but that gets lost in the message. A lot of the time the pedestrian doesn't realize, 'I can't cross in the middle of the street. I've got to yield to traffic.'"

According to Casella, the city saw five car-pedestrian or car-bicycle accidents along the boulevard between 2011 and 2015. The tally tops 30 when all of Long Beach Island is included.

Over the same time frame, 765 pedestrians were killed and another 22,000 injured on roads throughout New Jersey, according to the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

Since losing his daughter nearly eight years ago, Feldman has appeared before schools and businesses across the U.S. to reinforce the dangers of distracted driving.

"Teens are now telling me that distracted driving is selfish driving," he said. "They're not using the words 'risky' and 'dangerous,' which it is, but they're saying it's selfish. To me, that personal accountability is really, really important."

More from WOBM:

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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