The dismal forecasts made by safety advocates throughout 2022 became a reality this week when the number of fatalities on New Jersey roadways hit 705, a level not seen since 2007.
A 23-year-old male was killed in a three-car incident on Route 1 in South Brunswick at 10:22 p.m., and a crash in Tabernacle, Burlington County, claimed another life, according to the State Police. Wednesday, State Police announced final 2022 figures.
This is the largest number of traffic-related fatalities in the state since 2007, when 770 persons perished in collisions, and represents the fourth consecutive year of an increase. It also follows a nationwide trend for a rise in traffic fatalities in 2022. According to the 2023 state safety plan, the death rate per million miles travelled has grown from 0.714 in 2019 to 0.885 in 2020 and again to 0.943 in 2021.
Pam Fischer, senior director of external engagement for the Governor’s Highway Safety Association and former executive director of the state Division of Highway Safety, said, “My initial reaction to 705 fatalities is one of disappointment and frustration, as many of these crashes likely involved drivers engaging in unsafe behaviour that put themselves and others at risk.” Unfortunately, New Jersey is not the only state experiencing a rise in road deaths.
496 of the 706 fatalities involved drivers and passengers, an increase from 451 in 2021. 192 were pedestrians, a decrease from the peak of 215 in 2021, and 17 were bicycle riders, a decrease from the 26 in 2021.
Middlesex County had the most fatalities with 65 crashes resulting in 68 deaths, followed by Burlington County with 59 deaths in 53 crashes, according to State Police data.
Mariluz-Garcia-Diaz, a division spokeswoman, stated that the state’s Division of Highway Traffic Safety will not comment on the 2022 death count until it has been confirmed, but it will continue to work toward the 2020 targets outlined in the 2023 highway safety plan.
“Each year, the Division of Roadway Traffic Safety allocates roughly $30 million in federal funding for the development and implementation of a statewide highway safety strategy,” she explained. “In addition to the annual Highway Safety Plan established and implemented by DHTS, we are a critical partner in the implementation of the 2020 New Jersey Strategic Highway Safety Plan alongside multiple other agencies.”
She explained that this strategy plan focuses on seven categories, including Driver Behavior, Intersections, Lane Departure, Pedestrians and Bicyclists, Other Vulnerable Road Users, Data, and Equity, each of which has unique objectives. She reported that the average level of progress on these activities as of October 2022 was 88%.
Advocates for road safety are concerned that dangerous driving behaviours, such as excessive speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol, and distracted driving, which all increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, persist years after the March 2020 outbreak.
“I continue to read about the pandemic’s influence on people’s opinions. “There appears to be a laissez-faire attitude toward road safety,” Fischer stated. The nation’s drug czar has been sounding the alarm for the past two years about the impact of the pandemic on mental health and substance misuse.
Both safety and driver advocates concur on the pandemic’s impact, but they disagree on how to solve it.
“The number of traffic fatalities will begin to decline as society recovers from the shocks that began with the outbreak of the pandemic and continued with economic, cultural, and political shocks and uncertainties,” said Steve Carrellas, director of state policy for the National Motorists Association. As socioeconomic conditions improve, road accidents will decrease in the same manner as homicides and other crimes are declining.
Similar to pandemic lockdowns and other precautions, more regulations and restrictions on drivers are not the solution, he added.
“This is what got us here in the first place, in the form of lockdowns and other interventions that restricted and altered regular living, resulting in negative outcomes,” he stated. “Additional laws and enforcement would merely tighten the screws and continue the cycle.” It brings to mind the discredited War on Drugs.”
What is the proper response?
“Select enforcement to address ephemeral concerns. “It’s fair game to go after drivers who combine speeding with other dangerous driving behaviours, such as weaving, and those who exceed 80 mph on limited-access highways,” he said.