The number of people killed in car crashes in New Jersey is up for the fourth straight year, reaching a level last seen a decade ago.

Through Tuesday, there had been 628 traffic fatalities in New Jersey in 2017 and still rising – the most since 2007 and on pace to finish the year with nearly 100 more deaths than at the recent low point in 2013, when fatalities had dipped to the lowest mark in 91 years.

Earlier this year, fatalities were trending downward – a drop of 8 percent through the first five months of 2017. Then from June to November they were up 28 percent from the same period a year earlier.

The 67 traffic fatalities in October, according to State Police statistics, were the most in any month in 10 years – only to be immediately surpassed by 68 fatalities in November, according to preliminary data.

Cathleen Lewis of AAA Northeast said the problems are distractions for both drivers and pedestrians. She said it has been a particular problem in vehicles as manufacturers incorporate technologies such as voice-to-text and phone synchronization in more models.

“And while that may seem convenient, what ends up happening is that motorists think that because it’s in their car, it’s safe to use,” Lewis said.

New Jersey began keeping accident records in 1915 and has counted 87,550 deaths in that time.

The number of traffic deaths grew from an average of 230 in those first few years to more than 1,000 per year from 1927 to 1937. It peaked at over 1,300 in 1931, then began to drop in 1938 when the state instituted motor vehicle inspections.

By the late 1940s, traffic fatalities were averaging a little over 600 a year, less than half of its peak. Then they started climbing again in 1950, surpassing 1,000 a year in all but three of the 25 years from 1964 to 1988 and topping out at 1,355 deaths in 1973.

At that point, mandatory seatbelt and drunk-driving laws began to drive down the number of car-crash fatalities – down in 17 of the next 25 years before reaching 542 in 2013, at which point it began climbing again, up for four straight years for the first time since the 1960s.

Lewis said the state can do more to educate motorists to change their driving habits.

“That’s going to be a huge piece,” Lewis said. “Whether it’s reducing the drunk driving crashes that we’re seeking, reducing the dangerous behavior that we’re seeing on the roadways, we’re going to need to see a concentrated education campaign, something that we haven’t seen in a while.”

Lewis said there’s an opportunity to address the trend through transportation spending that addresses road conditions.

“Our roadways need to be repaired, and we need to make that when we’re doing that we have an eye towards not just their maintenance but the safety for all users,” Lewis said.

“The simple things of the potholes and those other things that we’ve talked about for a long time, those need to be addressed,” Lewis said. “When we’re addressing those, looking for safety measures that can help are very important – road diets, sidewalks, safer crossings.”

Road diets are the reduction of travel lanes, typically by changing undivided four-lane roadways into ones with one lane in each direction and a both-direction turn lane in the middle.


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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