Fatal hit-and-run accidents are on the rise in New Jersey, up 38 percent between 2013 and 2016, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Most of the fatalities involve pedestrians.

“We need to stop the current trend and see things go back in the opposite direction,” says Tracy Noble, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Midatlantic.

She says a major contributing factor is an overall pattern of distraction by both drivers and pedestrians who are dividing their attention between the road and their electronic devices.

“We need everybody to eliminate the distractions when we are navigating roads, whether it be behind the wheel of a vehicle, on foot or on a bicycle," she said. "Distractions are killing people, and that’s the black and white of it.”

As for why do people take off after a serious accident, she says it’s very hard to generalize but frequently a panic response is involved.

“It’s possible that those that do leave the scene of a crash are impaired in some way, shape or form, or they were distracted behind the wheel, or they could be an unlicensed motorist," she said.

Under New Jersey law, leaving the scene of an accident for a first offense can result in a license suspension of up to six months, hundreds of dollars in fines and 30 days in jail. If the accident results in the injury or death, a jail sentence of up to six months is possible.

Also, leaving the scene will mean multiple points on your driving record, which will affect insurance rates.

A second offense for leaving the scene can result in a one-year license suspension, higher fines and up to three months imprisonment. If the driver is found to have been intoxicated, charges of aggravated assault or death by auto may result and longer prison time may result.

Noble said people who witness a hit-and-run should get involved and call the police.

“If they can take note of the type of vehicle, the color of the vehicle, get as much identifying information as they possibly can — in the heat of the moment, it might not be possible to get a license plate number, but if you have your phone available and you can take a picture, the more information the better.”

She noted to solve hit-and-run cases, police frequently are “relying on tips from the public, they’re relying on personal home video surveillance systems that people have at their houses.”

According to information provided by the State Police, the number of fatal hit-and-run crashes in New Jersey increased 37.9 percent between 2013 and 2016.

In 2016 there were 40 fatal hit-and-run crashes involving 60 vehicles. The victims were four drivers, a passenger, 33 pedestrians and two cyclists.

In 2015 there were 32 fatal hit-and-run crashes involving 49 vehicles. The victims were two drivers, two passengers, 23 pedestrians and five cyclists.

In 2014 there were 33 fatal hit-and-run crashes involving 49 vehicles. The victims were a driver, two passengers, 28 pedestrians and two cyclists.

In 2013 there were 29 fatal hit-and-run crashes involving 41 vehicles. The victims were five drivers, two passengers, 20 pedestrians and two cyclists

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