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Resolving to Make Roadway Safety a Priority in 2012

Roadway deaths in NJ increased in 2011 after declining to record lows the previous three years. Are you contributing to the problem? What can you do to reduce your risk?

Happy New Year! Honestly, I’m not feeling terribly festive—635 people died in motor vehicle crashes on New Jersey’s roadways in 2011. That’s a 14.2 percent increase over the previous year. What’s particularly troubling is that our state’s roadway deaths had been on the decline—falling to historic lows the previous three years.

According to statistics compiled by the New Jersey State Police Fatal Accident Investigation Unit, there were 594 fatal crashes last year, 64 more than in 2010.  And the majority of those who died, 371, were behind the wheel (this includes car, truck and motorcycle operators). While drivers accounted for 58.4 percent of all roadway deaths last year, the state also experienced increases in deaths involving motor vehicle passengers (103 in 2011 compared to 99 in 2010, a 4 percent increase), bicyclists (17 compared to 13 in 2010, a 30.7 percent increase) and pedestrians (144 compared to 141 in 2010, a 2 percent increase).

While one year does not a trend make, I’m troubled by these numbers. What’s going on? State Police point to a lack of seat belt use as a contributing factor in many fatal crashes, while distraction is causing motorists and pedestrians to take their eyes and minds off the road. Pedestrians, stressed the State Police, need to use crosswalks and sidewalks, and refrain from walking after drinking alcohol. And what about speed—are we simply driving too fast?

When it comes to safety, it’s easy to be complacent and point the finger at the other guy or gal on the road. But I urge you, during this time of resolutions, to commit to making safety your top priority regardless of your mode of transportation. Safety has to start with each of us. No one—including yours truly—is guilt-free when it comes to our roadway safety habits.

If speed is your nemesis (my foot can be a bit leaden), set your vehicle’s cruise-control and/or ask your passengers to keep tabs on the speedometer and point out when you’re going over the posted limit. Addicted to technology? Put your iPhone, Droid or Blackberry somewhere out of reach (the glove compartment, a zipped briefcase or handbag stowed behind your seat), and vow to check it once you’ve safely reached your destination. If you vehicle is equipped with a hands-free device (which research shows is no safer than hand-held), refrain from making or taking a call unless it’s an emergency. Remember, driving is complex and requires each of us to be completely invested in the task.

As for seat belts, the need to ensure that you and all of your passengers are properly restrained each and every ride goes without saying. While New Jersey’s front seat belt use has steadily risen to a record 94.51 percent, we must do better in the back. Overall 61 percent are buckling up, reports the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic  Safety, but adults in the backseat wore their seat belts just 35 percent of the time.

When it comes to impaired driving, which continues to plague our roadways despite public recognition of the dangers of drinking and driving, it’s not just about alcohol. A nationally representative survey conducted in 2007 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that approximately one in eight weekend, nighttime drivers tested positive for illicit drugs. According to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 10.6 million people reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs in the past year. And one in three drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2009 who were tested and test results reported, tested positive for drugs.

Drugged driving, like drunk driving, not only puts the driver at risk, but his or her passengers and others on the road. Drugs can impair a driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle just as much as alcohol and prove just as deadly. This is true of drugs such as marijuana and cocaine, as well as prescription and over-the-counter medications.

The bottom line here is that no New Jersey municipality or county is immune from traffic crashes and the resulting injuries and fatalities. And while detractors might argue that we can’t stop all crashes from happening, we can do something about moving the number back in the right direction. Please join with me in making 2012 a safer year on our roadways. Whether you’re driving, walking or biking (the vast majority of us are both pedestrians and motorists), take personal responsibility for your actions and correct those behaviors that are not only putting you but everyone else on the road at risk.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Ruth E. Ross January 02, 2012 at 05:13 PM
My comment may leave some folks unhappy but I feel that it is not only relevant but there are many implications in addition to safety factor. The people driving SUVs, especially some of these really huge vehicles, impact not only issues of safety but increased road damage and repair due to their heavier, larger size, the increased environmental contamination from their exhaust, their greater use of gas and oil, the longer wait times at red lights or other delays because of their size and finally, general parking and space problems because of their larger size. I have to add: if an SUV driver is not particularly adept at either driving and/or parking, the results are not simply awkward but frequently dangerous.
Martin Rommer January 06, 2012 at 07:05 AM
I was surprised to see that the pedestrian death toll was up only a mere two percent. That remark seems callous as no death is taken lightly, but let me explain what I mean. I have noticed (at least in the Essex County town that I work in) that after the state pressured municipalities into enforcing the long ignored "YEILD TO PEDESTRIANS" law that many pedestrians at least in my experience don't even look around anymore and just jump into the street. That includes walking against red lights where they really need to stay put. Regardless of speed, a pedestrian struck by a car can still be severely injured or even killed. In one incident which involved me personally, (and thank goodness my muffler was LOUD at the time) I was crossing a main street with a green light when two girls with a red light and red DON'T WALK sign lit up like a "Christmas tree" just jumped in front of my car. I was far enough to stop safely and allowed them to walk across, but when they cleared my front end, I gave that puppy the gas, that Lincoln V8 purred like a dragon and boy did they jump. One of them thanked me with some remark and I replied with one myself. It was just my way of educating them to practice safe street crossing since apparently the police only ticket the drivers for failing to yield, and never the Jay walker.
Pam Fischer January 08, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Martin, as a long time safety advocate, one death is simply one too many. But do take note, the pedestrian law was changed in NJ in April 2010. It's no longer yield for pedestrians in the crosswalk, but stop and stay stopped. At the same time, the law was clarified to point out pedestrians must take due care when crossing. If they cross mid-bloc, against the light, etc., they do not have the right of way. The bottom line here is that we must all -- regardless of transportation mode -- share the road. And, remember we're all pedestrians once we park our cars.

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