It’s a trend that has safety experts concerned.

The number of traffic deaths in New Jersey rose 8 percent last year, which means traffic fatalities have gone up for three consecutive years.

That hasn’t happened in at least half a century. Officials aren’t sure if it’s longer than that because records only began being recorded in 1968.

A total of 562 motor vehicle deaths were recorded in 2015, and that number jumped to 607 last year.

Last year across the nation, traffic fatalities increased 9 percent.

Cars have more safety features now than they ever have — so why is this happening?

According to Gary Poedubicky, the acting director of the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety, one reason is that the number of drivers on the road is increasing.

“The economy has improved and gas prices are still relatively inexpensive, and it also appears that vehicle miles traveled will be slightly higher in 2016 compared to previous years, and this increases the volume of traffic on the roads,” he said

Other factors that contribute to the trend are impaired driving, speeding and distracted driving.

“There are all forms of driver distraction and they are all a problem when we’re behind the wheel of the vehicle,” he said.

He noted the rise in motor vehicle fatalities has contributed to higher fatality rates “among pedestrians and cyclists, and we saw an increase in motorcycle fatalities in our state as well.”

“The cell phone today, of course, is the biggest problem, and is a bigger problem in comparison with all other distractions. But all types of technology in the vehicles today are causing drivers to be distracted when they’re behind the wheel.”

He stressed in order to bring the number of motor vehicle fatalities down we need to focus on several things.

“Strict enforcement of traffic laws, and we have to continue to increase education and public awareness, emphasizing the importance of making good decisions on the road by all highway users,” said Poedubicky.

“If we can get highway users to make sound and responsible decisions on the road, we’ll see a reduction in the crashes and fatalities. That is the biggest challenge we’re presented with; it’s changing attitude of all highway users.”
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