The number of traffic fatalities in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties decreased by nearly a quarter last year.

A report released by the South Jersey Traffic Safety Alliance this week shows that the three South Jersey counties saw 62 fatalities as a result of traffic accidents in 2012 compared to 81 fatalities in 2011. That translates to a 23 percent decrease.

"The alliance is thrilled to see motor vehicle fatalities down," program manager Teresa Thomas said in a statement. "We would like to believe the numbers reflect our hard work, but the reality is there are many factors that need to be considered such as the economy, fuel costs, a devastating storm, vehicle safety and roadway design."

The South Jersey Traffic Safety Alliance is based in Vineland and was created in 1998 to carry out regional traffic planning and project development in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties. The group receives its funding from the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety and the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization.

The most significant decrease was seen in Atlantic County, which registered 16 fewer fatalities, or a 33 percent decrease. Cape May County saw the only overall increase in the region, going from 9 in 2011 to 11 last year. It saw five pedestrian fatalities, compared to none in 2011. Those pedestrian fatalities include two teen girls who died in Middle Township in July when they were hit while walking home from a playground.

Accidents involving pedestrians in the three counties have increased from eight in 2010 to 13 in 2011 and 17 in 2012

"Pedestrian fatalities have been on the rise in the alliance region and across the state and will continue to be a priority for both education and enforcement," Thomas said.

The alliance also gathers data on Salem County. If those numbers are included, the four counties saw 71 fatalities in 2012, compared to 97 the previous year for a 27 percent decrease. Fifty percent of all fatalties in the region took place between May and September with May, June, and July being the deadliest months.

In 2012, the alliance tracked fatalities on a daily basis, collecting relevant media coverage as accidents were added to State Police tracking methods.

That information has been helpful, but not conclusive, Thomas said. Data on seat belt use, age, and other contributing circumstances hasn't been available for each accident.

Numbers reported for Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland counties are the lowest reported since 2010, when there were 53 total fatalities. The number of fatalities have fluctuated since 2007 when a six-year high of 98 fatalities in the three counties were reported.

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority has recently put an increased focus on driver safety after state Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson expressed concern over the number of young people involved in fatal accidents on the Garden State Parkway.

The authority expected to unveil a driver-safety education program aimed at colleges and universities statewide later this year.

Contact Jennifer Bogdan:

609-272-7239

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