Study: Drivers Fear Routes 72, 539 In Ocean County

An analysis of 2020 crashes on Route 72 shows the most significant number occurred in the area of the highway’s intersection with Route 9. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  OCEAN COUNTY – In a limited analysis initiated by a Florida-based car dealership, Route 72 emerged as one of the nation’s most feared roads.

  Notably, the study focused on motor vehicle breakdowns, not the risk or predominance of motor vehicle crashes. The survey tallied results from 3,000 people nationwide and was commissioned by Gunther Mitsubishi and conducted by QuestionPro.

  In the list of the 50 riskiest U.S. highways, Route 72 ranked 21st and the only New Jersey roadway to earn the distinction.

  The conclusions stated in the final report undoubtedly placed emphasis on the western part of the 28.74-mile roadway, which begins at the Four Mile Circle in Woodland Township in Burlington County. Motorists heading from that point east will potentially journey through the densely wooded and isolated Pine Barrens before driving through Barnegat and ultimately crossing the bridge to Long Beach Island.

  “If a driver were to experience a breakdown on this remote stretch of Route 72,” says the Infograph released by Gunther Mitsubishi. “They could potentially face challenges in terms of limited cell phone reception and a lack of nearby service stations or facilities.”

  So, is that all it takes for Route 72 to garner the state title as one of the nation’s most feared roads? Surely, there’s more.

An analysis of 2020 crashes on Route 72 shows the most significant number occurred in the area of the highway’s intersection with Route 9. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Much of Route 72 consists of two lanes, each carrying traffic in opposing directions. Some impatient drivers show little hesitation in overtaking multiple cars by racing ahead to pass them. This behavior can put unwary motorists traveling in the opposite lane in a precarious position, as they might not always have the chance to veer onto the shoulder and prevent potential head-on collisions.

  No doubt there’s another reason that might add to the fear factor in traveling on Route 72.

  Not all motor vehicle crashes involve more than one car or truck. The possibility of deer darting from one side of the woods to the other represents another perilous situation. In previous years, these animals tended to restrict their roadside adventures to the cover of night. However, due to food scarcity, deer have grown bolder in their daytime appearances.

  The absence of proper lighting on Route 72 during the night, especially in the undeveloped sections of the Pinelands, introduces yet another concern for those who travel after dark.

  Traffic patterns change as the roadway moves east from Barnegat to Long Beach Island. Three lanes are available for a small stretch of the highway, morphing into four lanes and a divider through the busiest sections of Route 72.

  As the frantic rush to the beach heads to an end, locals will still dart between the many shopping centers and restaurants along the highway. Stop-and-go traffic primarily exists as vacationers use the only roadway to savor the sun and surf on Long Beach Island.

  In the meantime, does the fear factor assigned to Route 72 mean it’s also one of the most dangerous roads – or perhaps leading the area in deadliest accidents?

  The latest statistics compiled by the New Jersey Department of Transportation appear in its Summary of Crash Rates on State and Interstate Highways in Route and Milestone Order for 2020. A total of 254 crashes are listed for that year on Route 72, of which two resulted in fatalities.

  “The crash rate on Route 72 is 1.74,” said Leanna Nelson, Public Information Officer for the New Jersey Department of Transportation. “This is lower than the state average of 2.12.”

  A review of the data shows the greatest number of motor vehicle collisions occurred near Route 72’s interchange with Route 9 in 2020. Of the total, one incident resulted in a fatality, and ten were documented as crashes with injury. Collisions that only involved property damage were reported in 42 additional accidents in that area.

CR 539 has seen its fair share of accidents, including those near the turn-off from Route 72. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Route 72 might have grabbed the spotlight for hair-raising road trips, but when it comes to the realm of eerie isolation and concerns in Ocean County, it’s not alone. Right nearby, there’s CR 539, which actually intersects with Route 72 and has seen its fair share of unsettling incidents.

  The county roadway saw hours of closure following a harrowing collision involving a truck and car between Route 72 and Harry Wright Boulevard on September 18, 2020.

  Four vehicles collided, resulting in a Rt 539 fatal collision in Plumsted on June 23, 2021.

  Then there’s the heart-wrenching story of a young motorcyclist whose life was tragically cut short on the afternoon of July 24, 2022, entangled in a traffic accident on Route 539 in Little Egg Harbor Township.

  The somber list continues with a 59-year-old woman losing her life in a two-vehicle crash on Rt 539 in Plumsted on May 16, 2023.

  As just one other example, an 18-year-old from Manchester Township found himself in the throes of misfortune on May 25, 2023, as he collided with not one, not two, but three deer that dashed across Route 539, catapulting him from his motorcycle.

Route 72 isn’t the only local highway that fits the bill as far as breakdowns giving rise to a sense of fear. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  So, while Route 72 made it to the national list of road trips with fear factors, one thing is evident. Routes renowned for their desolation, treacherous conditions, and remote locations can swiftly transform an anticipated road trip into a nerve-wracking odyssey.

  Breaking down in an isolated stretch of a roadway could leave a motorist stranded until help arrives. Whether motorists travel on Route 72, 539, or any of the surrounding remote roadways, the Florida dealership offers some sound advice.

  “Checking the fuel level, tire pressure, and carrying essential emergency supplies like water, a spare tire, and a fully charged cell phone can be helpful precautions,” suggested Joseph Gunther IV of Gunther Mitsubishi. “Additionally, familiarizing yourself with alternative routes and letting someone know about your travel plans can be beneficial when driving through less populated regions.”