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The Commissioner's Report


NJDOT works toward zero fatalities goal

In 1948, there was no New Jersey Turnpike, no Garden State Parkway and no Atlantic City Expressway. About 40 percent of American families didn’t even own a car. The post-War growth of American suburbia was in its infancy. Most people lived near their workplaces and didn’t have to use a car to travel great distances back and forth. Automobile use was far less prevalent it is today.

I recently considered 1948 as I prepared for a symposium in Long Branch called “Safe Passage: Moving Toward Zero Fatalities.”

The event brought together a wide range of people with an interest in one of the three “E’s” of traffic safety - enforcement, education and engineering.

The title of the event clearly spells out the group’s goal - zero fatalities. We’ll have no reason to celebrate until there are no traffic fatalities.

However, the event provided an opportunity for us to acknowledge that we have cooperatively made great strides toward that goal in recent years.

Five-hundred and ninety-four people were killed on our roads in 2008.

That was a decrease of 130 since 2007.

That’s 130 fewer times a police officer had to knock on a door last year and break somebody’s heart with the news that their son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father was killed in a crash.

Each of those deaths would have rippled through a circle of family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and acquaintances. One hundred and thirty fewer deaths means thousands of our fellow citizens last year were spared the suffering that accompanies loss.

That’s an accomplishment of which everyone who is involved in traffic safety in New Jersey should be proud.

That accomplishment gave me reason to think about 1948.

A few cynics have dismissed the drop in fatalities last year as a by-product of a drop in the total number of miles motorists traveled in New Jersey.

While it’s true that people didn’t drive as much, the decline in Vehicle Miles Traveled does not explain the decrease in fatalities. We use Vehicle Miles Traveled, or VMTs, to show all the miles traveled by all the vehicles on our roads in a given year. Our VMTs last year were just over 73 billion. That was down 4 percent from just over 76 billion in 2007.

However, back in 2004, our VMTs were approximately the same as they were in 2008. If the decline in travel alone accounted for the decrease in fatalities, you would expect the death total to be about the same that year, too.

Conversely, the total number of fatalities in 2004 was 723, which indicates that the last time we traveled the same distances we did in 2008, we had 123 more traffic deaths.

In fact, if you search the historical record to find the last year we had fewer than 594 fatalities, you have to go all the way back to 1948.

At that time, automobile travel was much less prevalent than it is today. Fewer people were driving, and they weren’t driving as far. Our VMTs that year were 4.5 billion, less than one-sixteenth of what they were in 2008, yet the same number of people died in crashes.

We really have come a long way.

The progress we’ve made in recent years is a testament to the leadership of Governor Corzine and the hard work of a lot of people across a wide range of entities in the government, law enforcement, non-profit, academic and corporate realms.

We’re proud of the role we’ve played at NJDOT.

We pledged a few years ago to put up median barriers on 100 miles of New Jersey highways where the medians are less than 60 feet wide. We will have lived up to that promise by the end of this fiscal year. That decision, which exceeds the national standard for median barrier installation, has paid dividends. We’ve seen dramatic decreases in cross-over crashes on the roads where we installed median barriers.

We will spend $108.9 million this year to improve safety in areas that have been identified by our Safety Management System.

Those measures include installing raised pavement markers in areas where there are a high number of nighttime and wet-weather crashes, and making pavement improvements on roads where skidding has contributed to a significant history of crashes.

A few years ago, Governor Corzine launched a five-year initiative to make New Jersey safer for pedestrians. Since then, we’ve invested millions of dollars on 39 different pedestrian safety projects, adding more than 30,000 linear feet of sidewalk safety upgrades to dangerous intersections and highway corridors in areas with the highest pedestrian crashes and fatalities.

We’ve invested in 20 projects around the state designed to provide safe access for pedestrians and cyclists to rail, bus and light rail facilities.

We’ve also used federal money to fund 58 “Safe Routes to School” projects around the state. Those grants pay for engineering, education, enforcement and encouragement programs.

We’ll also invest in new technologies that have helped in other states to improve motorists’ compliance with their legal obligation to yield to pedestrians.

The reduction we’ve seen in fatalities in recent years marks a significant accomplishment. I can assure you, however, that nobody who attended the “Safe Passage” consortium believes it’s good enough.

Everyone there is committed to building momentum on our recent success and working toward a time when we can report that no motorist, passenger, pedestrian or cyclist was killed on our roads.

Everyone there would agree that even a single death on a New Jersey road will always be one death too many.

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  Last Updated:  March 13, 2009