By Francis M. Smith
The start of a new year is a natural time for looking at past trends and reflecting on ways to improve them going forward. As a personal injury attorney with extensive experience handling cases involving automotive accidents, I tend to turn that reflective impulse toward collision trends, in the hope of gaining a better understanding of the causes of the accidents that affect my clients. The New Jersey Department of Transportation compiles statistical records of collision rates throughout the state, broken down by county. It’s no surprise that more heavily-populated and urban counties tend to see more auto accidents than their less-populous neighbors, but what is remarkable is the way some counties see major fluctuations in the number of collisions that take place from year to year, while other areas experience a fairly consistent rate of crashes. Understanding what causes those changes, and why they affect some counties more strongly than others, may help uncover ways to keep all New Jersey road users safer.
One possibility is the changing emphasis of enforcement efforts. As distracted driving awareness has increased over the past several years, particularly as it concerns cell phone use and texting while driving, initial efforts to curb this dangerous behavior are often tested out in densely populated urban centers where accidents take place at higher rates. Any changes in enforcement or awareness-raising efforts would therefore most likely be felt first and most sharply in these areas, for good or ill.
There are, of course, some common trends that hold more or less true across the state. Overall, the trend over the last five years has been an increase in the number of traffic accidents; only four of New Jersey’s 21 counties saw fewer crashes in 2017 than in 2013. Though auto manufacturers have instituted numerous driver assistance and safety features into their vehicles in the past few years, the number of in-vehicle distractions, whether from built-in dashboard displays or from smartphone apps, has likewise increased. Few parts of the state have escaped the consequences of this increase in driver distractions, though some areas have felt it more keenly than others.
At the end of the day, this sort of statistical data is vital for policymakers to examine and understand, but the most important facts for you as a motorist to take away from this discussion are that automotive collisions throughout the state are on the rise, and some areas (especially more heavily populated urban centers) are more vulnerable to factors that affect accident rates, for better or worse, than their suburban and rural neighbors. Hopefully you will never have occasion to apply this information to your own life; being involved in a motor vehicle accident is a frightening and sometimes life-changing event. If you do ever find yourself in an accident, particularly one in which the other driver was at fault, there are a few important things you should keep in mind about how to proceed. One of the best things you can do for yourself in the aftermath of a serious car crash is get in touch with an experienced automotive injury attorney, who can guide you personally through any issues that arise should it turn out that you or a passenger in your vehicle was seriously hurt. Not all motor vehicle accident injuries make themselves obvious right away, and it’s better to protect yourself than regret it.