LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Traffic fatalities are down in 2018, but advocates say it’s not enough

BY Joanna Gagis, Producer/Correspondent |

As we reflect on 2018, one small victory for New Jersey, it seems, is a reduced number of traffic deaths for the year. The State Police released preliminary numbers, and while they aren’t final, they are promising.

“According to the preliminary numbers, the number of traffic fatalities is down about 10 percent compared to last year,” said AAA spokesperson Robert Sinclair. “So that’s some major progress. A significant number of those are pedestrians.”

Pedestrian deaths are down from 182 in 2017 to 172 in 2018. Driver deaths are down from 338 to 276. Total traffic deaths are down from 622 to 560 this year.

“So things are better, but one death is one too many, and 560 families are mourning the loss of loved ones and we could do a lot better,” he said.

Jersey City-based pedestrian safety advocate Kara Hrabosky agrees.

“Of course we’re always happy when we see fatality numbers trend downward. However, I don’t think this is really indicative of an improvement trend yet at the state level because these numbers from 2018 have just gone back to basically match the fatality numbers of 2014 and 2015,” Hrobosky said. “We will only really know that for sure if next year’s number is even lower, and the year after that is even lower than that.”

Hrobosky’s focus is in Jersey City, which has launched Vision Zero, a traffic safety initiative that originated in Sweden in the 90s.

“Vision Zero looks at the transportation system in that town holistically and looks at ways to improve the roadways and improve visibility and design so all of the road users are less prone to making errors,” said Hrobosky.

Sinclair says the Vision Zero model is working well in New York. He says it’s one of the three E’s critical to improving driver safety — education, engineering and enforcement.

He says there’s another good reason the numbers are trending down.

“New technologies on vehicles might be part of the reason that we’re seeing a drop in fatalities and injuries in New Jersey,” Sinclair said. “We’re talking about automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, lane keeping assist, all those things.”

In the end, experts agree on some simple advice: put down the cellphone when you drive, always wear your seat belt and follow the rules of the road. And with New Year’s Eve just three days away, don’t ever drive under the influence.