For the first time in five years, the number of people killed in car crashes fell in New Jersey in 2018.

Preliminary data compiled by the State Police indicate there were 564 traffic fatalities last year, which is 9.6 percent fewer than in 2017 and represents the biggest single-year drop in a decade.

It amounts to 60 fewer deaths. Almost half of that improvement came from Monmouth County (29 deaths, down from 43 in 2017) and Ocean County (40 deaths, down from 53 in 2017). Traffic fatalities decreased in two-thirds of counties but increased in the other third.

While the number of people killed in cars – drivers and passengers, combined – was back around its smallest level in the modern era at 373, the number of pedestrians killed by cars declined only slightly from its quarter-century high.

Indeed, by a fraction of percentage point, pedestrians now account for more traffic fatalities in New Jersey than at any point on record – with 175 killed, accounting for 31 percent of fatalities.

Pedestrians accounted for more than half of traffic deaths in Bergen, Essex and Hudson counties. In the four Jersey Shore counties, they dropped by a third – from 36 in 2017 to 23 last year.

In 2013, the number of traffic deaths in New Jersey reached its lowest point, 542, since the early years of the automobile in 1922. But then the number of deaths climbed for four straight years.

The state’s goal is to work toward Zero Fatalities. And while it’s far from that goal, the number of deaths is half what it had been around 40 years ago.

One year ago, Gov. Phil Murphy’s transition team said filling the position of director of highway traffic safety would enable the state to implement proven behavioral counter measures in support of that– but instead the division has had an acting director for Murphy’s first year, and that person retired effective Wednesday.

The 564 fatalities surely won’t hold up as the 2018’s official final tally. Some accidents are reported late by local police departments to the state. And sometimes after an investigation is completed, an accident is taken off the list, perhaps because the cause of death was health-related.

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

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