WOODBRIDGE — Within four months, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority will roll out a driver-safety education program at colleges and universities across the state, aimed at reducing the number of accidents on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike,
The initiative, dubbed Reinventing Safety 365, was unveiled Wednesday at the authority’s monthly board meeting in response a request by state Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson to investigate what he called a concerning number of fatalities on the parkway involving young drivers.
A committee formed in response to the September request recommended engaging outreach partnerships with colleges and universities, including Richard Stockton College, to educate drivers on the risks of texting and driving, not wearing seat belts and speeding. Those efforts will be coupled with an increased State Police presence, a YouTube campaign and a new social-media presence for the authority that will include tweeting about driver safety.
How colleges and universities will implement the program wasn’t detailed. Officials said schools have been made aware of the authority’s intentions, but meetings have yet to take place with campus officials to determine the most effective way to reach students. It hasn’t been decided whether those efforts will come in the form of information tables, school presentations or another format, officials said.
“The theme is going to be fun. We’re not going to try to preach to people,” said Sean Hill, the authority’s director of operations, who presented the recommendations.
Tim Kelly, a spokesman for Stockton, said he didn’t have any direct knowledge of the program as of Wednesday and was unable to reach others at the college who might be aware of anything planned.
When Simpson called for a committee to examine the statistics in September, he did so after looking at a monthly report compiled by State Police that detailed fatalities on each of the authority’s roads. That report showed that, as of September, half of the 16 of the people killed on the parkway in 2012 were under age 30. Most of those accidents occurred on weekends between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Updated reports released since that time show that while the parkway is on track to have one of its least deadly recent years, the percentage of deaths involving drivers under 30 will likely be the highest seen in at least six years. As of November, the parkway was the site of 21 fatalities. That compared with 32 deaths in 2011 and 40 in 2007.
But of the 21 people who died on the road this year, 13 — 62 percent — were under age 30.
The new initiatives is aimed at both the parkway and the turnpike. Officials said they’ve opted to focus a good deal of the campaign on young drivers but could not find any focal points, such as the area most prone to accidents, or a time of year or day.
“There’s nothing we could lock down,” said State Police Major Leonard Abline, the Troop D commander. “Right off the parkway down south is Stockton, so a lot of the commuters going back and forth … are from that college. Could that play in? Yeah. Atlantic City, does that play in? Absolutely.”
Not all of the initiatives will target young drivers. The State Police plan to increase its presence on both the turnpike and parkway by continuing with a plan instituted earlier this year for two “high-visibility” days each month. On those days, the majority of the troopers have minimal station report and training time, instead focusing on making contact with motorists and potentially intervening in dangerous driving behavior.
The authority will increase education efforts by placing troopers at service areas during high-volume traffic times. Those troopers will hand out pamphlets on safe driving and will be alert for potential driving offenses. Seven such details were completed this year. The authority plans to increase that number in 2013.
Troopers on the seven details in 2012 made contact with almost 6,000 motorists, issued 391 summonses and made eight driving-while-intoxicated arrests, police said Wednesday.
“The service area for us is our community … our community policing,” Abline said. “Mainly on the parkway side, they are our residents. The turnpike side is more multistate traffic. … It’s our opportunity to have contact with the public.”
NJTA Executive Director Ronnie Hakim said that while the principles behind driver safety haven’t changed, the way the authority works to educate the public can make a difference. The authority will update the colleges and universities within a few months, she said. A timetable shows the authority plans to begin with safety-related videos on YouTube between January and March.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the authority’s board also adopted a $474 million operating budget, the lowest for the authority since 2007. The budget, which includes the loss of one job through attrition, reflects a $1.5 million decrease for the agency that employees roughly 2,010 people. No toll increases are reflected in the budget.
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