American Community Survey data (2015) shows that over ten percent of New Jersey's population has one or more disabilities, with increased prevalence rates for certain disabilities in recent years. For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that New Jersey has the highest rate of Autism Spectrum Disorder of any state in the nation, with one in every 41 NJ children affected with ASD. Protecting these often vulnerable roadway users is a statewide priority.
Over the past decade, disability-specific traffic/roadway warning signs targeted to protect our State's youth with disability have proliferated in municipalities throughout New Jersey and other states; however actual effectiveness of the signage in terms of safety and security of children and individuals with disability is unknown, as is their impact and influence on other roadway users. Entities including The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) typically discourage the use of these non-standard warning signs such as "Autistic Child Area" and "Deaf Child Area," amongst others. Many states do not officially permit the signs, however New Jersey does. One of the reasons the USDOT discourages the signs is that there has been no research to date demonstrating that these types of signs influence driver speed and/or crash rates.
A study should be undertaken to document the usage and evaluate the effectiveness of these disability-specific traffic/roadway warning signs in NJ. The findings and recommendations of the study will benefit all roadway users, persons with disability, policy makers and legislators in the state of New Jersey, and medical and transportation professionals. Given the virtually non-existent research conducted on this timely topic, the study's findings will have a profound and meaningful impact beyond the borders of New Jersey. The findings would serve to inform entities including the USDOT and FHWA on this topic so that implementation of such traffic warning signs nationwide can be used in the safest and most appropriate manner to benefit all roadway users.