Motorists talking on phones, texting or engrossed by complicated infotainment systems while driving are more than an annoyance – they can be downright deadly.
Distracted driving was the leading cause of fatal crashes in New Jersey in 2018, more than speeding and driving while intoxicated.
A State Police fatal crash analysis found 146 crashes were because of driver inattention, 143 were caused by driver intoxication and 53 because of unsafe speed in 2018. This is the eighth straight year that the analysis found distracted driving was the leading cause of fatal crashes in New Jersey.
The slightly good news is that total is down from 196 crashes in 2017.
Unsafe speed was also down from 61 crashes in 2017 to 53 in 2018. Experts attribute enforcement efforts such as “U Text, U Drive, U Pay” and education campaigns run by the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety and the state Motor Vehicle Commission for some of the improvements in 2018.
According to state Department of Transportation data, a total of 1,372 crashes were blamed on cell phone use last year, down from 1,504 in 2017. That number has steadily declined over the past five years. One fatal crash was attributed to cell phone use in 2018.
Driving while intoxicated was a factor in 143 crashes, the analysis said. The number of crashes attributed to driving while intoxicated was down from 158 in 2017, State Police figures said.
“Distracted, and impaired drivers are killers and there is no acceptable reason for people to be behind the wheel while compromised,” said Tracy Noble, a AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman.
Even one drink affects driving ability, she said.
“Never get behind the wheel of a car when you’ve been drinking alcohol – even after just one drink,” she said.
New Jersey saw a drop in pedestrian fatalities from 181 in 2017 to 166 in 2018. However, there was an increase from 25 hit and run crashes in 2017 to 39 last year. Thirty of the hit and run victims in 2018 were pedestrians, the analysis said.
“The decrease in pedestrian deaths is promising but again it is still too many,” Noble said. “Distraction on the part of drivers and pedestrians is a growing factor, as well as the lack of pedestrian infrastructure in some areas, remains a contributing factor in pedestrian fatals.”
Safety technology that is becoming common place in new cars could help reduce some fatal crashes in the future, said AAA experts.
“Vehicle technology can assist motorists with features including blind spot monitoring systems, forward collision warning and lane keeping assist that can help to reduce fatalities," Noble said.
When properly used, advanced driver assistance system technologies have the potential to prevent 40% of all vehicle crashes and nearly 30% of traffic deaths, AAA found in a recent study.
Noble cautioned drivers about over reliance on those systems.
"This does not negate the need for drivers to pay attention and remained focused on the road,” she said.
Larry Higgs may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @commutinglarry. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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