A recent study by CarInsuranceComparison.com ranked New Jersey drivers as the sixth safest in the nation. Using 2013 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, states were ranked according to overall traffic fatalities, failure to obey traffic laws, speeding fatalities, DUI fatalities, and pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities. Though New Jersey saw the third fewest overall traffic fatalities, it ranked a disappointing 21st for bicycle and pedestrian fatalities.
The U.S. Government Office of Accountability (GAO) reports that pedestrian and bicycle fatalities rose nationally from 10.9 percent of all traffic deaths in 2004 to 14.5 percent in 2013. Some of the rise could be attributed to street design trends and policies that do not safely accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians.
Another explanation is that more people are biking and walking than before. In 2005, 3.3 million Americans walked to work while 530,000 biked. By 2013, 4 million people walked to work, while 860,000 biked.
As more people choose to walk and bike, the manner in which streets are designed must evolve to accommodate this shift in transportation priorities. Seven counties and 123 municipalities in New Jersey have enacted complete streets policies. It’s critical that these complete streets policies are implemented and enforced (and not simply enacted), but it will take perhaps even greater political will to reverse decades of car-oriented development (see Subaru of America’s new Camden headquarters).
The GAO report also states that policymakers are more familiar with automobile safety issues and are more hesitant to push for policies geared toward bicyclist and pedestrian safety. At the agency level, however, there seems to be more effort to protect vulnerable road users: the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority’s Street Smart campaign used public outreach to increase driver and pedestrian awareness to make streets safer, and NJDOT created a pedestrian safety action plan and toolbox detailing specific strategies and actions to create safer streets for people.