2017-05-LG-Nerwinski

Lawrence Township municipal manager Kevin Nerwinski.

Since April is Distracted Driver Awareness Month, I decided to write a topical article in combination with a community issue.

As many of you know, there was another motor vehicle crash at the Whitehead Road roundabout where a car drove through it, over an embankment, across a parking lot and into a building quite a distance away.

Kevin Nerwinski: The Whitehead Road roundabout

Kevin Nerwinski.

The motorist seemingly did not acknowledge the existence of the roundabout when approaching from the southbound lane of Brunswick Avenue.

This crash prompted many of you to comment on community Facebook pages that the roundabout is “awful,” “dangerous,” or “a mistake,” etc. At the same time, many others said it is safe and easily navigated if you are a competent and attentive driver.

I entered into the Facebook conversation by stating my belief that the roundabout is simple and safe if you proceed to it within the posted speed limit and yield to the motorist on your left before entering it.

I also acknowledged all of the documented studies by traffic experts that conclude roundabouts are safer than traditional T-intersections.

Well, expressing my opinion prompted some pretty lively and passionate responses disagreeing with me.

I always enter the fray with the best of intentions. Still, there are times when (as I am told) I come off as “wordy,” a “know-it-all” (I can’t help it–I tend to have more information on these subjects due to my job!), “condescending” (my wife’s personal favorite), or “mansplaining” (which I am having a problem identifying….I know, right?).

For all of those times, I offer you a sincere apology. It is never my intention to have that be what is taken from my participation.

I use “many” words to better explain where I am coming from—like right now! I am endlessly a work in progress and strive to do better each day.

Community conversations are never a bad thing—unless there are personal attacks-—and then the exchange of ideas and opinions becomes–unproductive. But I digress…

Though there are motor vehicle crashes all over our community, the only crashes that are seemingly posted on community Facebook pages are the ones that happen at this controversial roundabout.

This, I believe, adds to the deeper perception of it being dangerous. Even considering the number of motorists that successfully navigate through it each day, crashes are the only incidents that matter. Clearly, there are too many at this location.

Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides that human error is involved in 94 to 96% of all motor vehicle crashes.

Whether it is distracted driving by using a cell phone or texting, sleeping, or speeding (to name some of the main categories), it is clear that the motorist is much more likely to be the cause of the crash and not the design of the roadway.

I have always been someone that believes in taking personal responsibility for my actions instead of looking to blame others or something else. A motorist should always be in complete control of his/her vehicle, be cautious, competent, attentive, and obey traffic laws.

In my 26 years being involved in court traffic matters as a defense attorney, prosecutor and judge, our roads are unsafe due to human negligence almost all of the time (including poor weather conditions). These experiences surely have impacted my opinions on the roundabout issue.

As the municipal manager, however, I have a different responsibility from my past roles. Candidly, residents’ comments in these Facebook posts helped push me to look at this from a different perspective.

One that requires action to determine what, if anything, can be done to make the area safer by factoring into the equation drivers that drive carelessly for the variety of reasons I previously identified. It is a reality that must be considered.

I do believe that once the streetscape is FINALLY completed, it will change the character of the roadway and slow traffic down. But we are still a while away from realizing the completion of that long-lingering project.

As a result, I am putting together a task force comprised of members from our police department, engineering department, our traffic consultant, and myself to improve the area’s safety for entry, use, and exiting the roundabout.

I don’t think there are any easy answers. But a plan to improve the signage directing the flow of traffic, improve the visibility of the roundabout, and increase traffic enforcement in the area to slow motorists down seems attainable. Everything will be on the table for discussion.

I will report back to you all as we progress in this process.

Here are some links that I have referenced in my article that you may find interesting.

April Is Distracted Driving Awareness Month: nhtsa.gov/distracted-driving/april-distracted-driving-awareness-month.

Distracted Driving: nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving.

Human error as a cause of vehicle crashes: cyberlaw.stanford.edu/blog/2013/12/human-error-cause-vehicle-crashes.

Crash Stats—Critical Reasons for Crashes Investigated in the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey: crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812115.