Haddonfield Police Department beefing up enforcement of bike laws

Engaged in ways for young cyclists to obey rules, consider pedestrians and drivers.

Back-to-school season not only means a respite within borough homes from the hustle and bustle of summer vacation, it also means a return of hundreds of eager students taking to borough streets on two wheels. 

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Sometimes chaos reigns, as with the busy downtown district before the bell, and then afternoons when school is dismissed as the young and old jockey for prime position on Kings Highway sidewalks. 

In response to complaints regarding a surge of unruly bicyclists on Haddonfield’s busiest lanes, the Haddonfield Police Department has decided to step up efforts to curb their unsafe practices. 

According to state law, a bicyclist must: wear a helmet until the age of 17; ride with traffic; refrain from cell phone use while operating, and use a light at night; ride single-file in traffic; and obey all red lights and stop signs. 

“I don’t see a lot of helmets, I see a lot of backpacks, which means a higher center of gravity – that means that they fall, and the impact of how they fall will be greater. I see kids riding with no hands, I see kids looking at their cell phones,” related one resident who recently retired from a risk-management career at the Sept. 24 commissioners’ meeting.

“Statistics show that almost 600,000 emergency room visits per year are the result of bike accidents. One thousand people die from bicycle accidents every year, and there are tens of thousands of injuries from bicycle accidents, many of them traumatic and life-altering. So we would strongly urge you to redouble your efforts to educate kids about bike safety, but really to go beyond that, to enforce the statute.”

Police Chief Jason Cutler, who confirmed a total of six summonses to three juveniles over the last two weeks for bike-related violations, said he’s working on holding a meeting in November with Haddonfield Middle School principal Tracy Matozzo specifically for that purpose. 

“I know we’re also setting up a bike rodeo in the spring. That’s a little far away, but that’s in the works. I definitely agree with you, I know the commissioners agree with you and we’ll definitely do a better job of trying to enforce bicycle safety,” he added.

The department has also taken an additional step with a public-engagement session featuring DSgt. Danielle Mueller, Cpl. James Ervin and Ptl. Anne Donnelly downtown on Sept. 19, regarding enforcement and education of bike and pedestrian safety laws. 

Mayor Neal Rochford, who serves as commissioner for public safety, expressed great frustration that kids who are issued a $35 ticket for a first offense – per state law – sometimes just don’t get the message. 

“We can’t change that and I’ve talked to Mario (Borough Solicitor Iavicoli) several times to see if there’s a work-around. Basically, sometimes the kids just take the ticket and wave it in the officer’s face and laugh at them. It’s nothing to them, even though their parents have to go to court for that,” he lamented. 

Cutler said that part of the equation was not just a Haddonfield issue, but a national one of young bicyclists showing little to no regard for others on the road, then proving difficult to detain. Their behavior is especially risky when the sun goes down, visibility is reduced, and reflexes for those who drive become slower. 

“I gotta tell you when I’m driving down the street and you don’t see them coming, that’s scary when they’re weaving around the car. A lot of times they’re not wearing reflective clothing,” Rochford said. 

Rochford cited the need for parents to exercise greater vigilance and control over their charges’ biking habits. He’s also seeking cooperation from schools to get the message back to parents that they are integral in the process of keeping everyone safe and keeping police focused on other more pressing issues.

“My message is, safety starts at home, and it’s gotta be a part of a conversation between parents, police, government, and all the stakeholders. But parents are the big key. They’re the first to see them in the morning and the last to see them at night,” Cutler said. 

Per the police department’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/pg/haddonfieldpolice/posts/, residents and their bicycle-using children can look to the following sites for additional bike safety information: https://tinyurl.com/yyd5nu3q and https://tinyurl.com/y2wrjk5s

 

BOB HERPEN
BOB HERPEN
Former radio broadcaster, hockey writer, Current: main beat reporter for Haddonfield, Cherry Hill and points beyond.
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