Drivers distracted by cell phones, grooming, eating or other activities while driving caused about half of all car accidents in Chatham Borough over the last three years, according to a report by Councilman James Collander at the Chatham Borough Council meeting Monday.
Collander, the chair of the Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Planning Committee, said of the 952 car crashes investigated in 2010, 2011 and 2012, 438, or 46.01 percent of those, were caused by distracted drivers, and most of those are distracted by their mobile phones.
"There might be a few that are eating and grooming," Collander said, "but most people are on their phones."
Texting while driving in particular hinders driving behavior, Collander said, as much as consuming four alcoholic drinks. "It's a deadly problem," he said.
Volume of traffic on borough streets also creates a danger to pedestrians and drivers, Collander said. "Main Street sees about 19,000 cars a day, and Watchung Avenue, depending on where you are, sees between 12,000 and 20,000 cars a day," he said. "There's also crosstown traffic, with six schools in the district and soon-to-be seven preschools."
Collander said the committee recommended continued and targeted enforcement. At controlled intersections—that is, intersections with a stop sign or a traffic light—police have increased summonses issued while the number of accidents have gone down.Controlled Intersections Crashes Total Number Summonses Issued Percentage Summonses Issued 2010 73 15 20.6% 2011 59 15 25.4% 2012 57 25 43.9%
Collander also stated that within the borough, car accidents involving bicyclists and pedestrians are not as common as most people think.
"I know when these reports come out, they get a lot of attention from the media and the residents," Collander said. "The truth is the number of car accidents involving pedestrians were three in 2010, four in 2011 and two in 2012."
Car accidents with bicyclists were even more uncommon: one in 2010, three in 2011 and two in 2012.
"Obviously we'd like to see that number reduced to zero," Collander said.
Among the committee's recommendations was to continue targeted and stricter enforcement of traffic laws, especially with cell phones, pedestrian safety and speeding. Collander also recommended the police department continue education efforts about traffic and pedestrian safety, especially among Chatham schools.
Collander further recommended the police work with the school district, the township and the Safe Routes to School Committee to ensure safe driving, pedestrian and bicycling practices.
From an engineering standpoint, Collander recommended that four separate ordinances about the maintenance, snow removal, encumbrances and dining on borough sidewalks be consolidated into a single ordinance; that additional lighting be installed in the railroad underpass across Fairmount Avenue; and that the parking limit in downtown be expanded from 60 minutes to 90 minutes.
Collander also suggested the borough appeal to the state to increase the penalty for texting while driving. "Right now it's zero points, and $130 fine, no matter what offense it is," Collander said.
Mayor Bruce Harris said they believed most adults understood what proper behavior while driving was, but getting people to realize that those rules also apply to them was more difficult.
"We've really got to change our attitude," Harris said. "I see drivers along the parkway weaving in and out of lanes and texting. ... You need to realize that you're being selfish--you're putting others' lives at risk."
A PDF of Collander's presentation is in the Photos & Documents section of this article.