WEST TRENTON – In this tighter economic climate, consider giving a gift this holiday season that costs you nothing, but benefits everyone you know, and many people you’ll never even meet. Improve your defensive driving behaviors. The New Jersey State Police offer that simple advice to every motorist on the road over this Christmas and New Year’s Day in hopes that we can all enjoy a fatality-free holiday driving period.
“If we stop to think about what’s truly most important to us at this time of year, our personal safety, and the safety of our friends and loved ones will far outweigh any temporary urgency we may get caught up in during holiday road trips. There is so much vying for our attention when we are behind the wheel, but none of those extraneous things are worth risking lives for,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “The text messages and phone calls can wait, the GPS can be set in a parking lot, adjusting the stereo, or your child’s attitude is best done off the roadway. When you’re driving, just drive,” Fuentes added emphatically.
Distracted driving remains at the top of the list for causing motor vehicle crashes, and there are never more distractions than at this time of year. Add to that a higher volume of holiday traffic, some out-of-towners who are unfamiliar with the roads, and a few impaired drivers. Sprinkle in some weather complications to reduce tire traction, and you have the perfect recipe for deadly holiday crashes.
Because some drivers will always put others in jeopardy, more than 100 additional state troopers will be supplementing the usual patrols. These troopers are looking for the specific violations that lead to crashes, including driving while intoxicated, aggressive driving (speeding, tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic), and using handheld phones/computers.
The holidays are encompassed in a larger period of DWI enforcement in the “Over the Limit, Under Arrest” campaign that is coordinated by the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety. The program places additional troopers and officers on the roads looking for intoxicated drivers. Last year in New Jersey, 189 people were killed as a result of 179 alcohol-related crashes. That number represents 32 percent of the 584 traffic fatalities reported in the state in 2009.
“Our goal is to make sure that everyone has a safe and happy holiday by keeping intoxicated drivers off the roads,” said Gary Poedubicky, Acting Director for Highway Traffic Safety. “Concentrated efforts such as this one will heighten awareness about the dangers of drunk driving, and the consequences motorists can face if they choose to drink and drive.”
There will be a full compliment of troopers and Emergency Service Patrols to handle accidents and broken down vehicles during the holiday periods. If your vehicle becomes disabled, immediately pull as far off the traveled part of the road as possible and put your flashers on. If a crash or mechanical failure leaves your car in the lanes of travel, do not get out until you can see a clear break in traffic that enables you and your passengers to get completely off the road and to a safe location. Especially on icy roadways, minor crashes sometimes lead to serious injuries when occupants are standing around the scene of the accident as other traffic approaches.
During the 2009 Christmas holiday driving period, there were three crashes resulting in three deaths. That was a decrease from 2008 when four motor vehicle accidents resulted in the deaths of five people. As of December 18th, 542 motorists have died on New Jersey roads, which is a 4.9% reduction compared with the same time period in 2009.
The 2009/2010 New Years Day Holiday marked the first fatal accident-free holiday period in New Jersey since records began in 1986. That was a welcomed contrast from the previous five New Years Day Holidays. In 2004 through 2009, New Jersey averaged nearly nine fatalities from motor vehicle accidents. With the public’s assistance and cooperation, we hope to once again see a fatality-free holiday season.
The official Christmas driving period begins at 6:00 p.m. on December 23rd, and runs through 6:00 a.m. on December 27th. The New Year’s period starts at 6:00 p.m. December 30th, and continues until 6:00 a.m. January 3rd.
Two last bits of advice: “If you plan to drink alcohol at all, then plan for a designated driver,” said Fuentes.
“As a driver, you should insist that every occupant in your vehicle should be seat belted before you put it in drive,” he added.
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