Safe driving is the topic of SJTA forum

A key safety point the year 'round: Don't distract yourself from your main job -- driving.
A downside to the holiday season is the temptation to drink and drive. The penalties are severe, State Police warn.
The South Jersey Transportation Authority Thursday hosted a gathering of highway safety experts from its six-county service area.

The experts -- from Atlantic, Camden, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties – presented a public education program with the support of the New Jersey State Police, the Division of Highway Traffic Safety and the South Jersey Traffic Safety Alliance. Their outline was to educate motorists on ways to lessen the hazards of winter driving. They also discussed such seasonal tips as equipping a vehicle to cope with winter conditions. The forum was held at the administrative building adjacent to the Farley Service Plaza (Milepost 21 on the Atlantic City Expressway).

“We at the SJTA believe it’s our job to do everything possible to guarantee our patrons the safest possible travel on the Expressway,” said Acting Executive Director James R. Iannone. “The first brush of winter weather showed that many drivers are inexperienced in dealing with the dangers of the season. Perhaps because of our generally mild winters, New Jerseyans don’t anticipate the impact of changing roadway conditions.”

Gary Myerovich of the state Highway Traffic Safety Division, said New Jersey’s last holiday season saw15 fatalities in 13 accidents during Christmas and 5 fatalities over New Year’s. “This year’s slate has yet to be written. We can hope for zeros, but sadly we know better,” he said.

“I’m not speaking as a safety professional but as a father,” said Camden County Freeholder Thomas Gurick, a panelist. He said his son has been a driver for just two weeks. “It has made me aware of how important the fundamentals are.”

In a comment especially pertinent during the holidays, Michael Schurman, Atlantic County Director of Highway Safety & Community Affairs, described the “Hero” program that provides free taxi rides for drivers who call for help. Nearly 200 bars and taverns in the Atlantic County environs participate in the program, he said.

Bill Garrison, traffic safety specialist in the Cumberland County sheriff's office, said that a serious accident’s impact goes far beyond people in the wrecks. “It impacts the family and co-workers, too,” he said. He recalled when as a police officer he had to inform a wife cooking a holiday dinner that her husband would never be coming home. “The turkey hit the floor,” Garrison said. “I don’t think the holidays ever come that don’t remind her of that awful day.”

Among the points the safety experts emphasized were:

• Slow down in snow or sleet, even when the highway surface seems clear. Refreezing means “black ice” presents hidden dangers.
• Bridges and ramps present special hazards, since they may refreeze before the better insulated main roadway.
• Increase the space between you and the vehicle in front of you. Braking takes longer in snow or slush.
• Allow more time for your trips, so you won’t be tempted to speed up.
• Think ahead, so as to avoid the need for sudden turns or stops. These greatly increase the likelihood of going into a skid.
• If you’re in a vehicle with rear-wheel drive, exercise extra caution. Remember that it is more likely to lose traction in snow or on ice.
• And, in winter especially, use your seatbelts – even for a short trip. Most accidents occur within just a few miles of home.
• If you should find your car has lost traction in snow or on an icy patch, do not try to escape by revving up the engine. Apply power slowly and rock the car back and forth. Also, carrying either kitty litter or rock salt to improve your tires’ grip will improve your chances of escape.
• Make sure your windows are clear and your lights are not blocked by snow. Also, take the time to clear snow and ice from the roof of your vehicle. At highway speeds, that snow could hinder the vision of the driver behind you, and ice flying off a car roof can break a windshield or injure someone.

Some other tips they will present:

• Before the season begins, prepare your vehicle for winter – with new windshield wipers, plenty of cleaning fluid and most important, tires with good tread for traction.
• Equip your vehicle with a flashlight (check the batteries), a window scraper sturdy enough to deal with ice, a snow shovel and either kitty litter or rock salt. Adding jumper cables is also recommended.
• Try to travel with a cellphone to summon assistance either for yourself or a fellow motorist if you see someone with a problem. On the Expressway, call #ACE (#223) but pull over to make the call. Don’t drive with a distraction.

If you get into an accident:

• Safety is the paramount consideration.
• If the vehicle is driveable, use your flashers to get out of the travel lanes.
• If the vehicle is disabled, stay inside, use your flashers and summon emergency assistance (on the Expressway, call #ACE; elsewhere 911). Getting out for any reason is an invitation for trouble.

The guest experts: Michael Schurman, Atlantic County Director of Highway Safety &
Community Affairs; Tom Gurick, a Camden County freeholder; Bill Garrison of the Cumberland County sheriff's office; Danielle LaPorta, a safety specialist in Gloucester County; Mack Lake, Salem County emergency operations and training officer. In support: from the State Police, Sgt. Ralph Corchado; from the Traffic Safety Division, Gary Myerovich and Ed Collins; and from the Traffic Safety Alliance, Teresa Thomas.

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