Ocean County consistently ranks among the worst counties in the state for fatal accidents, a situation that county officials have strived to change, with little success.
The deadly trend is continuing this year. Through Monday, the county had reported 29 fatalities in 26 crashes, the most in the state, according to statistics released by the New Jersey State Police Fatal Accident Investigation Unit.
Ocean County’s 54 traffic deaths in 2010 were the most in the state. In 2011 and 2012, Ocean County reported 52 and 53 traffic fatalities, respectively, leaving it tied for the second most both years, behind only Middlesex County, the Fatal Accident Investigation Unit numbers show. Neighboring Burlington County had the same number of fatalities as Ocean each of the past two years.
Ocean County is the sixth most populous of New Jersey’s 21 counties with 576,567 people, according to the 2010 Census. Middlesex County ranks second and Burlington County 11th.
In 2012, Atlantic County, which ranks 15th in population, saw 32 fatal crashes, seventh-most in the state, down from 48 in 2011, when the county had the state’s fifth-most fatalities. Cape May County reported 11 deaths in 2012 and nine in 2011, while Cumberland County’s deaths dropped from 24 in 2011 to 18 last year, according to the Fatal Accident Investigation Unit.
Across the state, there was a 6 percent decrease in overall deaths, from 627 in 2011 to 589 in 2012, the State Police statistics show.
The number of fatalities has decreased statewide five out of the last six years, said Gary Poedubicky, acting director of the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety.
“It’s a shame that people are losing their lives because the majority of these crashes are preventable,” Poedubicky said.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what is the reason Ocean County fatalities have not fallen with the statewide figures, but Poedubicky pointed to the transient population in some areas.
“I think without a doubt the visitors coming into some of these places increases the exposure, and the population during the summer months is very high,” he said of areas such as Ocean and Atlantic counties.
Ocean County Freeholder Jack Kelly said the county continues to work to make the roads as safe as possible, but they cannot ever make roads driver-proof.
Ocean County’s proximity to Atlantic City’s around-the-clock casinos lends itself to drivers traveling late at night distracted, falling asleep or many times being under the influence of alcohol, Kelly said.
“Historically, Ocean County has always been ranked one, two or three with the highest fatalities on the roadways. It concerns me, but there are things I can’t change, like how many miles of highway we have or how close we are to Atlantic City,” Kelly said.
Kelly also pointed to roads such as Route 9, which remains a two-lane highway the same that it was in the 1920s. The most dangerous issue with such roadways is that there is too much traffic on a road that is too small, he said.
Municipal police are doing a great job with seat belt checks and DWI checkpoints, Kelly said.
With each road project in the county there is a component for driver safety, he said.
Even if there is one fatality it concerns officials because it’s a life lost, said Vince Jones head of the Atlantic County Office of Highway Safety. Atlantic County has reported 17 traffic fatalities so far this year.
“What we do every year is take the highway safety grant and work with law enforcement on education. Right now we’re focusing on the distracted driving because we’ve had a couple of those fatalities. But we’re also looking at the rate of accidents,” Jones said.
On the Black Horse Pike in Egg Harbor Township there have been a large number of fatalities and the local police have been out doing enforcement and education, Jones said.
In February, the Black Horse Pike was named one of the deadliest roads in the state by an annual safety report put out by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign after seeing nine pedestrian fatalities between 2009 and 2011.
Ocean County’s section of Route 9 was also named in the report as the sixth-deadliest roadways, with six deaths between 2009 and 2011.
“In that area we have had fatal accidents occurring during the day and the night. The fatality we had in Pleasantville a few weeks was a man who was driving down the road minding his own business and someone pulled out in front of him and he’s hit head on and unfortunately he died from his injuries,” he said.
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