N.J. Road Death Rate Lower Than U.S., But Not Low Enough

ems_rigBy Road Warrior: As many of us head out on the most-traveled holiday weekend of the year, the New Jersey State Police were kind enough last week to publish some reading material designed to nudge us into our seat belts and under the local speed limits. No, it wasn’t the annual message about more police scouring the roads for inattentive drivers, speeders, drunks and the unbuckled. Most of us expect that. After all, the Thanksgiving Day period that ends at 6 a.m. Monday produced nine traffic fatalities last year, and in 2005, it was the most disastrous holiday weekend of the last half-decade when 22 people were cut down.

The state police news came in its 2009 traffic-death compilation, which showed all the different ways we managed to kill ourselves on the road last year. Since 2007, highway safety officials have spun this annual document (njsp.org/info/fatalacc/2009_fatal_crash.pdf) in a positive way because road fatalities have been declining. Last year was no exception, since deaths in the state dropped from 590 in 2008 to 584 in 2009. That represents a healthy 24 percent decline compared with 2006, when 770 were killed. That’s 18 percent lower than the 10-year average — 712 deaths.

Anybody with a hand in safety, law enforcement, vehicle manufacture, or just plain conscientious driving ought to take a bow. In theory, the numbers suggest we’re all safer.

But for me, the surprise in the new state police fatality report wasn’t the sinking death count. Instead the report confirmed something we all suspect but would rather not acknowledge:

Even under the best of circumstances, we’re extremely vulnerable every time we get in a car or set foot in a street.

The proof lies in the way the great majority of 584 people died in 550 New Jersey crashes last year. Despite some deeply held myths, most weren’t drunk or otherwise behaving badly, and most of the time traffic conditions were normal. For example:

* Nearly 80 percent of all fatalities occurred in clear weather.

* More than 70 percent of drivers were going straight ahead.

* More than 71 percent of drivers involved in these crashes weren’t under the influence of alcohol, drugs, illness or fatigue.

* Two driver age groups — 40- to 49-year-olds and 50- to 64-year-olds — each were involved in these crashes nearly twice as often as drivers under 21.

* Of all the one-hour periods throughout 2009, the fewest deaths — 10 — occurred from 8 to 9 a.m., and just 13 were killed from 7 to 8 a.m. Read more in North Jersey.

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  1. The top 5 contributing factors in 2009 :

    1. Driver Inattention
    2. Pedestrian Violation
    3. Unsafe Speed
    4. Failure to Keep Right
    5. Failed to Yield Right of Way

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