SPECIAL REPORT: New Jersey announces highway safety initiatives

| 3/11/2003

New Jersey has announced several “Safety First” initiatives that were spurred by a series of fatal accidents last November.

Chief among the initiatives are doubled fines for speeding on some of the state’s highways, according to a March 5 release from the NJDOT. Also included are higher fines for trucks that are overweight or have faulty brakes.

The doubled speeding fines, which are now levied in construction zones, would be added to the new “Safe Corridors,” along with higher fines for aggressive driving. The “Safe Corridors” are stretches of highway with above-average accident rates. The New York Times reported they might include more than 500 miles of highways in the state.

The “Safety First” program also includes:

  • Improvements to state roads.
  • Stricter police enforcement.
  • New driver’s education initiatives.
  • New “Safe Corridors” on high-fatality-rate highways.
  • New median barriers on interstates to prevent crossover accidents.

“These initiatives offer sensible solutions to make New Jersey’s highways safer,” Gov. James E. McGreevey said in a statement. “It is important that they be implemented quickly so that we can reduce risks and make our roads safer for all motorists.”

Initial statements by state officials after the November accidents indicated that they intended to specifically target trucks in the safety measures. Later, they backed away from that statement.

However, the plan does include several measures targeted at truckers. For example, in addition to the higher overweight fines, truckdrivers who accumulate more than 12 points on their licenses would be required to attend an accredited safety driving school.

But not all of the program targets truckers.

The DOT said it would revise New Jersey’s written driver’s test to include eight questions regarding safe interaction between cars and trucks. In addition, the New Jersey Driver’s Manual will be redesigned to include more information on safety and car-truck interaction.

And the state will spend $15 million over the next five years to install barriers on interstate highway medians to prevent collisions between vehicles traveling in opposite directions, and $5 million for technology to accelerate the emergency response to accidents and redirect traffic.

The three accidents that occurred Nov. 20 spurred considerable public reaction in New Jersey. Sgt. Kevin Rehmann of the New Jersey State Police said one person died in a crash on Route 78 in Lebanon Nov. 20; no one was hurt in the second wreck, on I-80, which held up traffic for hours; and the third wreck ended with two people dead on Route 287 in Franklin Township.

Officials in New Jersey have indicated that at least two of the accidents were not the fault of the truckdrivers.

The governor, in response to the accidents, formed a committee that included state DOT officials, State Police, the AAA Auto Clubs of New Jersey, the New Jersey Motor Truck Association and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to develop proposals to increase highway safety.

The task force, which is now permanent, will continue to meet, the DOT said in a statement, to monitor the initiatives’ progress and to explore safety measures that can be implemented on county roads and local streets.

The November accidents have spurred several other efforts. One included a proposal for split speed limits in the state.

Earlier this year, state Assemblywoman Connie Myers, R-Hunterdon and Warren counties, introduced A3127, a bill that would create a split speed limit in the state, slowing trucks from 65 mph to 55 mph on New Jersey highways.

The governor’s committee had looked at the idea as well, but in February, the New Jersey Department of Transportation took the proposal to implement split speed limits on the state’s highways off the table, a spokeswoman for the DOT told Land Line Feb. 20.

The dual speed limit proposal would have placed cars at 65 mph while trucks would have been restricted to 55 mph.

Anna Farneski, spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, said the governor’s committee had considered the idea, but rejected it in early February after examining studies on the topic.

Myers indicated through a spokeswoman that the DOT’s decision would have no effect on her support of the bill, which is still in committee.

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor