WEST ORANGE, NJ — Many kinds of violence draw attention in our society and yet traffic violence is often overshadowed, reduced to being called “accidents.” West Orange resident Sangeeta Badlani’s son, Nikhil, did not die from an accident; his death was preventable — he died from a careless driver disregarding a stop sign in South Orange in 2011. Spilling a glass of water would be an accident; driving recklessly and causing another person’s death or injury is altogether different.
In order to prevent similar tragedies, Sangeeta Badlani, co-founder of the Nikhil Badlani Foundation, launched the New Jersey chapter of Families for Safe Streets on June 21 at Millburn Public Library. FSSNJ, formed by Badlani and others who have lost loved ones due to reckless driving, made its debut at a “School’s Out, Drive Safe” event, sponsored by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition and AAA Northeast in New Jersey. The new FSSNJ members drove their point home, holding pictures of their deceased loved ones.
“The main goal of FSSNJ is to end traffic violence,” Badlani told the West Orange Chronicle earlier this week via email. “We seek cultural and physical changes on our streets through education, legislation, enforcement and roadway engineering. In addition we will provide support services to victims and families affected by traffic violence. We promote a state where no loss of life in traffic is acceptable and no other families suffer as we have.”
According to the New Jersey State Police, the state has seen 253 traffic-related fatalities so far in 2017. In Essex County alone, there have been 20 traffic-related fatalities so far this year — seven in June. Most recently Tamara Campbell, 35, of Newark was struck by an 87-year-old female driver June 22 in the area of Broadway and Third Avenue in Newark. Campbell was rushed to University Hospital where she was pronounced dead an hour later. In addition to striking the pedestrian, the driver hit two utility poles, a traffic control box, a tree, a fence and a parked car.
“Over the next few weeks, the group will discuss specific actions that they want to advocate for, which will help us achieve our goal of zero fatalities and elimination of serious injuries,” Badlani said of FSSNJ. “The group will work closely with Tri-State Transportation Campaign leadership to seek change ‘inside’ the system through meetings with elected officials, government agency leadership, other advocacy groups and community partners. We are looking to support policies and legislation that will deter distracted driving, reduce speed limits in school zones and increase enforcement.”
While FSSNJ seeks to prevent such tragedies, the organization, whose members have all suffered a traffic-related loss, provides support services and ensures that those affected have the tools they need to make it through such a difficult time.
“In the aftermath of a crash, it is overwhelming to grapple with practical matters that need attention when you are consumed by grief,” Badlani said. “We will help affected families by guiding them to resources, which will help them with their emotional, practical and legal needs.”
Of course, in some instances, grief motivates action. This was certainly the case for Badlani, whose son would have graduated from West Orange High School last week had he survived.
“One derives strength from the pain and grief to carry on the work so no other families suffer as we have,” Badlani said. “We gain strength and emotional support from the bond forged through our shared experience. This personal connection, combined with our advocacy, inspires us to keep fighting.”
Badlani is proud to form the New Jersey chapter of Families for Safe Streets, an organization that originated in New York and has spread to San Francisco, Portland and Toronto.
“We all have the same vision: zero fatalities and elimination of serious injuries,” she said “Our hope is that other families affected by traffic violence will join us in our efforts to make our streets safer as there is strength in numbers. We can only be effective if we band together.”
Photos Courtesy of Sangeeta Badlani