During a year of stay-at-home orders, curfews, and working and attending school remotely, more individuals lost their lives on New Jersey's roads.

According to preliminary New Jersey State Police data, 553 fatal crashes resulted in 590 deaths in 2020. There were 524 fatal crashes in both 2019 and 2018.

The numbers accompany a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which found more risky behavior on the roads, even with fewer cars on it due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The report highlighted an increase in speeding, statistics that point to fewer people wearing seat belts, and a high rate of drivers testing positive for drugs or alcohol.

Fatality rates jumped 30% nationally from January through June 2020, compared to the same time frame a year prior, NHTSA said.

In response to 2020 statistics, the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety plans to launch a #SafeDriversSaveLives social media campaign, along with a statewide multimedia campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving. Meanwhile, HTS will use crash analysis technology to target communities most in need of education and public outreach programs.

"We're working on some very exciting initiatives and programs aimed at improving driver behaviors through education and public awareness," said HTS Director Eric Heitmann. "The 2020 crash data indicates that now, more than ever, we need every driver working with us to keep New Jersey's roadways safe."

Tracy Noble, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the more people sharing safety messages, especially on social media, the better.

"We also need parents to model this behavior for their teen drivers, and even for kids before they ever step foot behind a wheel," Noble told New Jersey 101.5. "There are apps that allow you to silence your phone while you're driving. Also, every phone comes with a power button."

AAA recommends the following "roadway resolutions" for 2021:

  • Resolve to put the cell phone away - While behind the wheel, drivers need to be singularly focused on driving. Stow your smartphone away, turn it to airplane mode, or activate call/text blocking features like the 'do not disturb' function.
  • Resolve not to drive impaired - Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a no-brainer, DON’T do it! If you consume marijuana, alcohol, or use potentially impairing prescription medications, then don’t drive. If you’re going to drive, then don’t consume these substances.
  • Resolve to buckle up - Seat belts save lives. Buckling up helps keep you safe and secure inside your vehicle, whereas not buckling up can result in being totally ejected from the vehicle in a crash, which is almost always deadly. (NHTSA)
  • Resolve to slow down - Drivers tend to overestimate time saved by speeding. You’d have to travel 100 miles to save roughly 5 minutes, moving at 75 m.p.h. instead of 70 m.p.h. Speed kills and isn’t worth the cost.
  • Resolve to pull over when necessary - Stop driving if you become sleepy because you could fall asleep at any time. Fatigue impacts reaction time, judgment, and vision, causing people who are very tired to behave in similar ways to those who are drunk.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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