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The State of New Jersey: Unsafe at Any Speed
Tuesday, June 22, 2004

New Jersey is known for its roads. I have varying theories as to why that may be. Part of me thinks it’s because the roads are the only things out-of-staters ever see. This would account for why people think New Jersey smells, when, in fact, New Jersey only smells on the Turnpike where out-of-staters pass through. And if you must know, New Jersey only stinks for the same reason blowfish blow themselves up. It’s a defense mechanism. It’s meant to scare you away.

Anyway, I also think New Jersey is known for its roads because they’re the biggest moneymakers we’ve got outside Atlantic City. And I’m not talking about the buckets of cash brought in by all our tollbooths. No, I’m talking about the money we make off of traffic fines. You see, the State of New Jersey has this way of taking the fun out of driving and sticking it straight up your tailpipe. For example, there are now no fewer than three—count ‘em, three—instances in which the state doubles its fines for speeding.

First, there are Work Zones. Whenever a New Jersey driver sees a sign saying, “Work Zone Ahead,” he knows to slow down for fear of doubled fines. And, of course, it makes sense to ask folks to drive slowly. After all, there are workers working in Work Zones. Speeders risk running them down.

But you’ve got to understand these Work Zones are everywhere. Back roads. Major highways. You name it. And in some Work Zones, there isn’t even any work going on. Traffic slows to a crawl as the orange signs start appearing at the side of the road: “Slow Down...Work Zone...1000 Feet.” And then you get there. And you realize you’ve been duped. All it amounts to is an empty dump truck and a bunch of kicked over cones.

God forbid you should get pulled over, though. They’d still double the fines.

To me, this seems unnecessary.

Then there are 65mph Zones. Here you wouldn’t think there’d be a problem with speeding, seeing as how the whole idea is to drive faster than usual. But if you thought that, you’d be wrong.

Typically, you’re safe doing 70 in a 65, which is nice. But when you’re driving in a 65, things are already opened up and expected to move a bit faster—that’s why they made it a 65 to begin with. And when things get moving, it is very easy for the flow of traffic to go from a cool 65 all the way up to 80. Now, I’m not suggesting you should go that speed, but let’s get real here: When traffic hits 80, you’ve got to go 80. Anything slower could easily get you killed.

And that’s what I’m getting at. These 65mph Zones are ruled by a “zero tolerance”—i.e., Nazi—policy. If a cop’s having a bad day, and it’s the end of the month, and he hasn’t reached his quota, he can pull you over and cite you for doubled fines. Yet driving precisely 65 when the prevailing speed is 80 is probably just as dangerous as 80 itself.

Lastly, the state doubles its fines in Safe Corridors. Yeah, you heard me: Safe Corridors. Never heard of them? That’s because they’re new. And I can’t possibly describe them like the State of New Jersey describes them, so here’s the official description from the Department of Transportation’s February 6th press release:

“Signed into law by Governor James E. McGreevey in July 2003, the [Safe Corridors] initiative doubles fines for a variety of driving offences, including speeding and aggressive driving, on sections of Routes 1, 9, 22, 40, 46, 47, 73, and 206. The highway sections were designated as ‘Safe Corridors’ based on statistics showing a crash rate 50 percent over the state rate and 1,000 or more crashes over three years.”

Safe Corridors are the worst racket yet. I travel Routes 1 and 9 all the time. And you know what? You’re lucky if you can speed there. If things moved any slower, you’d put your car in park.

You want to know why people keep crashing all the time? It’s because you’re putting in too many goddam traffic lights and strip malls. Knock it off already. I like shopping as much as the next guy. But everywhere I go, all I see is a Lowe’s on this side of the highway and a Home Depot on the other. A Staples and an Office Max. A Friday’s and a Tuesday’s. Enough is enough. All this stop-and-go traffic is getting ridiculous. It takes me two hours to travel ten miles. Even horses go faster than that. Weren’t automobiles supposed to solve this problem?

And I’ll tell you what really gets me: It’s the fact that these Safe Corridors are meant to protect people, yet they debuted to curiously little fanfare. You’d think the state would be patting its back in public every chance it gets. It doesn’t. Instead, it’s as if they’re trying to conceal Safe Corridors altogether. Only dorks like me who spend time checking out the NJDOT’s web site even know about them.

And you ought to see the “Designated Safe Corridor” signs. They’re white and yellow, unassuming, and posted in spots you wouldn’t think to look—like behind the branches of trees. What’s more, they contain blocks of text explaining what Safe Corridors are, as if it’s safe to slam your brakes and read them.

I originally planned on writing this article when Safe Corridors came out a few months ago. My plan, though, was to purposely get pulled over in a Safe Corridor, so I could write about it. I had it all mapped out. I’d go before the judge, and he’d ask me to enter my plea for speeding, and I’d tell him, “Not guilty by reason of insanity.” And when he asked me to clarify, I’d look around the courtroom and say, “Hey, I’d have to be crazy to speed in a Safe Corridor.”

Crazy, indeed. I’d be crazy for thinking the punch line was worth the money.

Because money is what it comes down to, after all. If it wasn’t about money, they wouldn’t be hiding Safe Corridors, much less have them on top of those other doubled fine zones. I mean, I’d love to tell you, at this rate, it won’t be long before Unsafe Corridors completely disappear, but I think that’s the basic idea. You probably already figured as much.

The way I see it, it’s really no wonder out-of-staters race for the borders when they’re driving through New Jersey. They’re afraid to venture any further into the state and see what other fines can be levied for their own good. Hey, I live here—I can’t say I blame them.

Jonathan David Morris is the author of Versus Nurture. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/readjdm.

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