The driver wore a N95 protective face mask while driving “for several hours” before the driver “ultimately passed out” while the car was in motion, according to the Lincoln Park Police Department.
Police believe the driver passed out “due to insufficient oxygen intake/excessive carbon dioxide intake” while wearing the respirator.
Images from the scene of the accident show the crumpled hood and front fender of a red four-door SUV and a crooked wood power pole that the car had smashed into.
The driver was taken to a nearby hospital and treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
A statement from police said: “As it relates to this specific incident, we reiterate that police officers are not physicians and do not know the medical history of every person we encounter. We conduct accident scene investigations using training, experience and observations at the scene to determine a cause. It was stated in the original post that we ‘believed’ the excessive wearing of an N95 mask was a contributing factor to this accident. While we don’t know this with 100 per cent certainty, we do know that the driver had been wearing an N95 mask inside the vehicle for several hours.”
Lincoln Park police added that “nothing was uncovered at the accident scene that would suggest that the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol” though police have not ruled out “some other medical reason” that may have contributed the accident.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has urged residents to wear cloth face coverings in public, but police reminded residents that masks “are not necessary outdoors when social distancing can be maintained, and especially not necessary when driving a vehicle with no additional occupants.”
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend people wear face coverings while driving and has also stressed that only health workers and medical first responders wear critically needed surgical masks and N95 respirators, which are “critical supplies that must continue to be reserved” for frontline workers.
“We are not trying to cause public alarm or suggest wearing an N95 mask is unsafe,” police said. “The original point of the post was to state that in most cases, the wearing of this type of mask while operating a vehicle with no other occupants is unnecessary.”