Advocates demand safety programs for NJ switches after end of 2021 with record 14 years of road fatalities

New Jersey ended 2021 with 690 people killed in traffic crashes, the highest since 2007 and marking an increase for the third year in a row, despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Police Statistics said 690 people died in 660 crashes or crashes last year, killing 103 more people than in 2020. The number of pedestrians killed also rose to 218, 39 more killed than 79 in 2020 and 23 cyclists died in crashes last year, 5 more than in 2020.

Overall, road deaths are at a level not seen since 724 fatalities were recorded in 2007 and pedestrian fatalities reached the highest number since 1989, when 217 pedestrians were killed, statistics show of the state police on road accidents.

The death toll has prompted safety advocates to renew a call to Governor Phil Murphy to implement the ‘Vision Zero’ safety program, with the goal of eliminating road fatalities by 2030, which is used in New York and several major cities in New Jersey.

“As the state makes multiple efforts to improve road safety and reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries among vulnerable road users, it is time to recognize that what has been done so far is not working. not, ”said Janna Chernetz, deputy director of the Tri- National Transport Campaign, in a report. “The state must become aggressive. Adopting Vision Zero is a mandatory next step.

Safety advocates made a similar request to Murphy for a Vision Zero program in 2018 after the increase in pedestrian deaths in 2017. New Jersey uses a different national program, Towards zero deaths, which supporters say doesn’t do as much as Vision Zero could.

When asked in late December if the governor would consider a change, spokesman Michael Zhadanovsky said Murphy planned to stick with the existing program.

“The governor continues to support the state’s multi-faceted and data-driven crash reduction strategies, including the strategic road safety plan and driving towards zero fatalities,” he said. “Our administration is continually evaluating and improving these strategies and will make changes as necessary.”

Members of the New Jersey Vison Zero Alliance cited the high death statistics as the reason for an immediate change.

Governor Murphy should immediately sign an executive order that sets out a Vision Zero goal of eliminating deaths by 2030 and create a Vision Zero task force to oversee the development, implementation, transparency and accountability of strategy, “said John Boyle, research director of the Bicycle Coalition of. Greater Philadelphia. “We can take the example of the Washington State Highway Safety Commission. “

The increase in the number of road fatalities in the state in 2021 is similar to national trends identified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in October when he released his death estimates for the first six months of the year.

The NHTSA estimated that 20,160 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the United States during the first half of 2021, up 18.4% from 2020. Similar to New Jersey, so is the number highest death rate for the same period since 2006.

“In New Jersey, the number of road fatalities increased 12.6% from the same period in 2020 – well below the national average, but still concerning,” Eric Heitmann said last month, director of the New Jersey road safety division.

One of the reasons for the increase is the rebound in traffic after the coronavirus pandemic, NHTSA said. Traffic peaked at 29 billion vehicle kilometers traveled in June 2021, which declined in the fall and rebounded to 27 billion in October, the latest statistics available from the Federal Highway Administration.

Safety officials have also blamed continued bad driver behavior that appears to have been perpetuated since early 2020, when COVID-19 travel restrictions emptied the roads of traffic. An increase in the number of fatalities in 2020 has been attributed to speeding, not wearing a seat belt and driving under the influence.

“Let’s focus on putting proven Vision Zero strategies into practice and developing innovative solutions that will save lives and improve the well-being of all our citizens. If only we had made this commitment earlier, my beloved daughter, Ella, would still be here, ”said Judith Kottick, founding member of Families for Safe Streets NJ.

State security officials are monitoring the increase in the number of deaths and planning responses.

The state’s Highway Safety Division plans to spend more than $ 20 million on programs and initiatives to improve road safety and change driver behaviors, Heitmann said.

“In response, the Division has already planned two major public campaigns for early 2022: in January, we are preparing to launch a multimedia campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of DUI,” he said last month. “In April, we will launch another statewide multimedia campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.”

The division will also spend $ 1 million in overtime grants for law enforcement and a $ 500,000 media / awareness campaign, to coincide with National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and Mobilization. UText, UDrive, UPay ”.

Safety advocates have called for better infrastructure, especially for pedestrians, such as traffic lights that give them a head start when crossing the street compared to car traffic, sidewalks along arterial roads. suburbs such as Route 9 in Middlesex and Monmouth counties, where pedestrians now have no safes. a place to walk and neighborhood traffic calming devices such as speed boards to prevent speeding.

Advocates interviewed in December said they hoped more money would come from the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill.

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Larry Higgs can be reached at [email protected].

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