The 100 deadliest days | Opinion
By Sangeeta Badlani
We are in the midst of the 100 deadliest days of road travel.
Memorial Day, as the gateway to summer activities, is the start of this dangerous span of days. This year, as vaccinations have lowered COVID deaths and restrictions are lifted, New Jerseyans are traveling throughout our state, enjoying all that the Garden State offers.
But there is a hidden epidemic whose death toll is increasing. Serious crashes kill and disable, but are often unnoticed except by the people directly impacted. Each serious crash devastates families. Unsafe roads impose huge costs in pain and suffering, lost income, lost time and costs for health care and public safety.
Unfortunately, road deaths have been on the rise. Even during COVID, with people staying at home, New Jersey traffic fatalities rose. Last summer, 161 people were killed on New Jersey’s roads, up from 146 in 2019. This year is on pace to be deadlier, with 23% more deaths than last year January-April.
We have seen what attention and resources can do when focused on an urgent health and safety problem. U.S. road deaths declined significantly from the late 1960s to 2011, due mostly to vehicle safety (seat belts, airbags, crash-resistant design).
Improvements in automobiles have not been matched by improvements in our roads. There are proven methods to make streets safe. We know that drivers will make mistakes but better road design can make our mistakes less deadly. Roads can better protect all road users, especially the most vulnerable, and can reduce the speed and severity of vehicle crashes.
Vision Zero is an internationally proven approach to include safety in transportation planning, design and repair. Setting the goal of zero deaths, and planning to make roads safe is a good policy and makes economic sense.
My beautiful and talented 11-year-old son, Nikhil, was killed during the 100 deadliest days in 2011. Ten years have passed, and we feel his loss every day. Ten years have passed, and each year, hundreds of families are subjected to the same kind of pain. New Jersey must change.
We are families affected by traffic violence, transportation experts, and ordinary road users who simply want to drive, bike, and walk safely. New Jersey can lead the nation by adopting Vision Zero and making road safety a high priority every time we spend taxpayer dollars on our roads. As we redevelop our infrastructure, let’s build back safer.
Everyone uses transportation. The ability to safely get around our state means jobs, opportunities, enjoyment. The freedom to travel is part of the American dream. So this summer, travel safely and insist that our next Governor commit to getting New Jersey to zero traffic deaths as ZERO is the only acceptable number.
Sangeeta Badlani is the founding member of Families for Safe Streets New Jersey, the Nikhil Badlani Foundation, and Vision Zero NJ Alliance.