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Pedestrian deaths in NJ are on track to reach their highest level in 30 years. We need solutions, say advocates.

New Jersey is on track to end the year with the highest number of pedestrians killed in more than 30 years and the highest number of road fatalities since 2007, according to state police statistics.

The 211 pedestrians killed so far in 2021 on Wednesday are the highest number since 1989, when 217 pedestrians were killed, according to State Police Statistics on Road Fatalities.

This year also surpassed 2020 and 2019 for the highest overall number of road fatalities in recent years, reaching a total of 672 people killed as of December 22, according to state police statistics. This is a record never seen since 724 deaths were recorded in 2007.

“The increase in overall fatalities and pedestrian numbers is just tragic,” said Tracy Noble, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson. “While the volume of traffic has returned to pre-pandemic levels, the fact that fatalities have exceeded pre-pandemic levels is extremely alarming, especially as we are seeing a declining trend in deaths. for several consecutive years. “

Members of the State Vision Zero Alliance renewed their call on Gov. Phil Murphy to enact an executive order to set a “Vision Zero” goal of eliminating road fatalities by 2030 and to create a group working, based on Washington State Highway Safety Commission, to develop strategies to achieve this goal.

“I lost my 11 year old son to a reckless driver a mile from my house. It’s been 10 years since I hugged him. There are many mothers like me who have lost their children in the carnage of our roads, ”said Sangeeta Badlani, Founder of Families for Safe Streets New Jersey and spokesperson for Vision Zero New Jersey Alliance. Her son, Nikhil Badlani, was killed in 2011.

“Every life is precious, it is imperative that we act now to end the silence on traffic violence. Zero is the only acceptable number of road fatalities. “

Safety advocates made a similar request to Murphy for a Vision Zero program in 2018 after the increase in pedestrian deaths in 2017. New Jersey uses a different national program, Towards zero deaths, which supporters say isn’t doing enough like Vision Zero might.

“Clearly, what is implemented by the state is not enough – the numbers tell us,” said Sonia Szczesna, director of active transportation for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “What we need is a total reassessment of how we design our streets and that’s going to require a change in mindset. It starts with strong leadership committed to ending traffic accidents. “

The governor plans to stay with the current program, said Michael Zhadanovsky, a spokesperson.

“The governor continues to support the state’s multi-faceted and data-driven crash reduction strategies, including the strategic road safety plan and driving towards zero fatalities,” he said. “Our administration is continually evaluating and improving these strategies and will make changes if necessary.”

Safety experts cited several factors behind the increase in road fatalities, including the impact of poor driver behavior from the coronavirus pandemic, people continuing to cycle and walk, activities that resumed for the pandemic and increased traffic.

“Dangerous driving behaviors appear to dominate the road and continue to play a role in the increase in fatalities in 2021,” Noble said. “Distracted driving, impaired driving and speeding tend to be the main culprits and, unfortunately, these are the driving behaviors that people choose to participate in while behind the wheel. “

The New Jersey Vision Zero Alliance plans to draw attention to the rising death toll and hopes to work with the state legislature on the issue in the next session, which begins Jan. 11, Noble said.

Meanwhile, the state’s Road Safety Division plans to spend more than $ 20 million on programs and initiatives to improve road safety and driver behaviors, said Eric Heitmann, director.

“In response, the Division has already planned two major public campaigns for early 2022: in January, we are preparing to launch a multimedia campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of DUI,” he said. “In April, we will launch another statewide multimedia campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.”

The division will also spend $ 1 million on overtime grants for law enforcement and a $ 500,000 media / awareness campaign, to coincide with National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and Mobilization. UText, UDrive, UPay ”.

“This increase should be seen as a wake-up call to prioritize safety over speed,” said Debra Kagen, executive director of the NJ Bike and Walk Coalition. “We have to deliver safe designs to the streets. We need to prioritize this and change our ways if we are to have an impact on this growing traffic violence. “

National and state security officials warned of the deadly trend earlier this year for similar reasons found by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Research makes from 2019 until the height of the pandemic in 2020 until the first six months of 2021. Research has determined that incidents of speeding and travel without seatbelt remain higher than in the pre- pandemic.

“The state will experience the deadliest year in decades. We need a comprehensive approach to road safety and an end to road violence. Infrastructure must be at the center of this approach, ”said Janna Chernetz, Deputy Director, Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “Residents and visitors to our state need and deserve safe environments. A safe system is the key to ending traffic accidents. “

Kagan said she supports a federal infrastructure bill that could provide increased funding for states, counties and cities to build “complete streets” designed to have facilities for all road users. New Jersey had a complete streets policy over the past 10 years, and eight of the state’s counties and 169 municipalities have implemented similar programs.

In fiscal 2021, which ended on June 30, an additional $ 3 million was available to municipalities in the form of competitive grants from DOT’s Safe Route to Transit, Bikeways, and Transit Village programs for construction projects. infrastructure for pedestrians and bicycles. DOT’s municipal aid program increased by $ 10 million to $ 161 million, which included funding for projects that support walking and cycling in cities, in addition to work on roads and bridges that he supports.

Typically, pedestrian and cycling subsidy programs have many more applications than there are funds to allocate, Kagan said.

“We need help to provide them with money (cities and counties) to put in place complete streets,” she said.

Crash data also needs to be more available and reliable, as safety programs such as Vision Zero call for building safety infrastructure where the data shows a need, she said. .

The state’s road safety division has a “new, state-of-the-art online collision analysis tool” that allows it to better analyze crash data and target subsidies where they are needed. most need to go to make an impact, Heitmann said.

The division is also “working with partners across the state” to implement pedestrian safety programs in cities with the highest number of pedestrian collisions, he said. Grants for pedestrian safety enforcement and year-round education in 21 of the top 25 municipalities for pedestrian-related accidents will also be awarded.

Until that happens, pedestrians can take measures to protect themselves, such as crossing at crosswalks, looking both ways before crossing and avoiding crossing between parked cars, Noble said. On roads without sidewalks, especially in suburban and rural areas, pedestrians should walk in front of traffic and wear reflective clothing, she said.

Better driver education is also needed to teach drivers how to safely overtake pedestrians and cyclists on the road, especially with the entry into force of a new safe overtaking law, advocates said. .

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Larry Higgs can be reached at [email protected].