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South Passaic Daily Voice serves Clifton, Haledon, Hawthorne, Little Falls, North Haledon, Passaic, Paterson, Prospect Park, Totowa, Wayne & Woodland Park

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DV Pilot police & fire

‘Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day’ stresses ‘street’ smarts

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

CLIFFVIEW PILOT SPECIAL: I was stopped at a gas pump in Emerson when a car barreled into the driveway. The guy behind the wheel was looking to his right instead of ahead. I hit the horn and he jumped, jerked his head back and steered around me. I don’t want to imagine what could have happened had he hit those pumps — the point of Wednesday’s national “Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day.”

New auto-safety features have helped reduce the number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes across the national in recent years, despite a boost in the number of miles driven.

In New Jersey, however, 627 people died last year in crashes, up from 556 in 2010.

Police say it’s personal choices that can save the most lives – including your own. Even the simplest or quickest of texts or phone calls, or a glance at yourself in the mirror, could make the difference.

For what is now the 12th straight year, police, transportation and other public safety experts are pushing for one day – 24 little hours – in which no one is killed in a crash on a U.S. roadway.

The chances of that happening are just about impossible, given that, on average, someone in the U.S. dies in a crash every 13 minutes.

But that doesn’t mean deaths cannot be avoided, especially if people seriously consider the consequences of how they drive. As this year’s theme emphasizes: “Don’t Be Driven to Distraction.”

“Important initiatives like ‘Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day’ will undoubtedly raise driver awareness and encourage a change from dangerous driver behaviors that contribute to fatal motor vehicle accidents,” said Col. Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “Only by changing dangerous and irresponsible driving behavior can New Jersey reach the ultimate goal of a fatality-free year.”

Electronic stability control, forward collision warning and lane departure warning systems have all helped make that happen, as have rumble strips, cable medians and other advances.

However, authorities say the annual awareness campaign – which began in 2001 — has brought attention to the benefits of personal responsibility.

That includes buckling up for EVERY ride, doing the limit, staying sober and avoiding ALL distractions, including texting, GPS devices and everything else people try to do when they should be paying attention to what’s ahead.

The best way to pursue the goal, police in Bergen County say, is one town at a time.

“Clearly, this effort will go a long way in our continuing efforts to stem the tide of tragedies that occur every day on New Jersey’s roadways,” Fairview Police Chief Frank DelVecchio said. “Shining the spotlight on this one day can help create a groundswell of support for good driving behaviors that can carry over throughout the year.

“ ‘Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day’ not only raises awareness about the individual responsibility we have for our driving behaviors but also engages drivers in making positive changes behind the wheel every day of the year,” DelVecchio said.

To help the cause, police departments will report tomorrow’s crash information, including the total number, those involving injuries and those that kill, to the Division of Highway Traffic Safety, the state’s lead traffic safety agency.

The division will post the information on its website and distribute it to the media.

It’s like “The Great American Smokeout,” only with blue uniforms.

“Clearly, this effort will go a long way in our continuing efforts to stem the tide of tragedies that occur every day on New Jersey’s roadways,” Fair Lawn Chief Eric Rose said. “Shining the spotlight on this one day can help create a groundswell of support for good driving behaviors that can carry over throughout the year.”

IMPORTANT TIPS:

  • Keep your car in safe running shape. Check the tire pressure, wear and alignment. Have a mechanic give it the once over, especially with winter approaching.

  • ALWAYS buckle up, no matter where or how far you’re going. It’s not always about your car hitting another’s. You never know what could slam into you.

  • Understand that driving while impaired doesn’t always involve alcohol. Reconsider your mode and method of travel if you are taking ANY kind of medication, be it prescribed or over the counter.

  • Keep a safe distance. It’s the unexpected that holds the most danger. A car doing 60 covers 88 feet in ONE SECOND.

  • Remember: You might have a clear idea in mind – but the other drivers don’t know it.  So never get caught between the right side of a truck or bus and the curb when you’re not on a highway, and never try and squeeze between a large vehicle and other cars.

  • Avoid cutting in front of anyone, suddenly speeding up, hopping lanes or  riding someone’s bumper. You never know how others are going to react, especially in heavy traffic. Someone ahead might suddenly hit their brakes, or someone behind could get rammed.

  • You could have cat-like reflexes and the best brakes in the world, but they won’t save you if you’re barreling toward a stopped car and you realize it too late. The split-second you divert to a cellphone, GPS or anything other than what’s directly in front of you could be the instant you need to make a decision that could save you or someone else. Statistics show that 80 percent of accidents, and 65 percent of near hits, involve some form of driver inattention WITHIN THREE SECONDS of the crash.

  • Keep your eyes on the road in more ways than one. Noticing a narrow road or bridge, or a steep slope that ends in a ditch, can spare you a nasty accident if you handle them carefully.

  • Don’t ever hesitate to call police if you see trouble. That can be either  dangerous driver or a road problem that someone may not yet have noticed. Police appreciate the help.

And pedestrians:

  • Be careful crossing streets, even at clearly marked intersections – that’s where many fatal accidents occur.

  • Keep a safe distance when standing on corners. Large turning vehicles often cut corners – and could clip you.

  • Same as when driving: Beware of blind spots around trucks, buses and cars.

  • Don’t assume drivers have the kind of reaction time and awareness of stopping distance that will protect you as you cross the street. A motorist might see you clearly but accidentally hit you anyway. Truck brakes and gears are notorious for sticking.

  • Despite what pedestrians in Paterson, Newark and other large cities do, don’t deliberately challenge oncoming cars. If you absolutely, positively can’t wait for a signal, make sure it’s safe – and then hustle to the other side with more than enough room to spare. After all, there’s always that oncoming driver who DOESN’T see you.

MORE: brakesonfatalities.org

CLIFFVIEW PILOT ADVISORY: Independence is important to the elderly, and no one wants to take that from them. But please consider whether your parents, grandparents or other loved ones have reached the point of being too old to drive. Nature itself dictates that reaction times slow as you age, particularly in your senior years. Now consider the number of elderly drivers you have seen barreling down a highway. The rest of us have trouble enough negotiating the sudden surprises that pop up as we drive. Consider the potential for an elderly person behind the wheel of a two-ton vehicle.

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