Highway fatality rates in Monmouth and Ocean Counties are the highest in all of NJ. That’s because more people are driving to shore destinations, crowding the roads and perhaps just unfamiliar enough with the territory that they make stupid mistakes. They’re also driving less carefully because, dammit, they’re on vacation! Woohoo! While people might complain about the elderly drivers, and they are pretty awful down here, accidents involving or caused by young people are more numerous, and represent a larger percentage of that age group of drivers (i.e., more young people per 100 total young drivers are in accidents than old people per 100 old people. You knew that, I’m sure, but I just wanted to be clear.) You really see this on a Friday, Southbound on the Parkway. Sports cars driven by young men, and especially when they also carry similar-aged passengers, have little patience for the crowds and low speed, and do a lot of improper passing – across multiple lanes, on the shoulder, on the right, too close to the other vehicles – and I try to give them a wide berth. Easier said than done, of course. Older drivers, and again I see this almost always with men, and especially men driving business trucks or vans, seem to be highly likely to assume that no other vehicles could possibly be in the physical space that they want to move into, so they will change lanes regardless of whether it is safe to do so or not. The few who use their turn signals when they do this seem to think that putting on their signals compels other drivers to make room for them. Don’t bother honking, because they’ll ignore you or flip you the bird. Sometimes they’ll teach you a lesson by slowing down and boxing you in, if they can.
If you are used to NJ highway driving, you’ll be profiling these drivers in your head in order to keep yourself safer. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, dontchaknow. Yesterday, though, the biggest threat was the four Harley riders from New York. You think you’re paying attention pretty well, and then these guys cut in and out of lanes, zipping along the lines that divide the lanes between you and the neighboring car with only inches to spare. Lanes are for suckers, signals are for wusses, and bumper to bumper traffic is a game to see if you can pass cars in the split second between the time the car in front of them moves and they put their foot on the gas. You can’t anticipate what they’re going to do, because they’re winging it, and you can’t keep out of their way because they might end up stuck, behind you again, and zip around you without warning and in a way that jeopardizes your safety. We get lots and lots of motorcycle accidents around here, because a lot of motorcyclists who ride like this enjoy coming to the beach. This summer, there were three fatalities in four days, and rarely does a whole week go by without one motorcycle vs. car in the papers. Someone always comments in the article, or writes a letter to the editor, that motorists need to be more conscious of cyclists and take care to treat them just like any other vehicle on the road. And yet. . .most of the reports involve accidents that were the fault of the motorcyclist. Hmmm. Occasionally, you’ll see a mention about motorcycle safety, but most of the time in real life, you can’t treat a motorcycle just like any other vehicle because the riders don’t drive the way other vehicles are required to. I do see riders who ride safely and courteously, but they seem to be the exception.
So, it was nerve-wracking, but I survived. It is, however, something to be avoided if at all possible, this Friday driving thing.