PUBLIC SAFETY: New Jersey is coming off a “distracted driving decade” that has law enforcement working overtime to try and stem the worsening crisis of motorists trying to work a two-ton machine and a handheld phone at the same time, the state’s top lawman said this morning.
From 2004 to last year, driver inattention was a major contributing circumstance in a “staggering” 1.4 million crashes in New Jersey – about half of all, Acting Attorney General John Hoffman.
It also accounted for more than 1,600 deaths on the state’s roads, he added.
“What is perhaps most troubling about these numbers is that the issue of distracted driving seems to be getting progressively worse,” Hoffman said. “Our research indicates that while crashes and fatalities are trending downward as a whole, the number and proportion of distracted crashes are rising.”
At the beginning of the “Distracted Driving Decade” in 2004, driver inattention was cited as a major contributing circumstance in 42% of crashes, statistics show.
That number rose to a peak of 53% last year.
The problem: cellphones and other devices with screens that take attention away from where it belongs — on the road.
“Using a handheld phone and texting has reached epidemic levels,” NHTSA Region 2 Administrator Thomas M. Louizou said. “When you text or talk on the phone while driving, you take your focus off the road. That puts everyone else’s lives in danger, and no one has the right to do that.”
The crisis has led to the current “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” campaign, through which the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety gave 60 police departments throughout the state money to pay for checkpoints and increased patrols.
About halfway through the three-week campaign, which ends April 21, the funded departments have issued an estimated 3,000 summonses for cell phone and electronic device violations.
Louizou said the successes of “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” and “Click It or Ticket” initiatives prove that tough laws, direct advertising and high-visibility enforcement can change people’s risky traffic safety habits.
“People need to know that we are serious about stopping this deadly behavior,” he said.
So serious, in fact, that state lawmakers have boosted penalties for breaking New Jersey’s primary cell phone law.
On July 1, the penalties jump from a $100 fine (plus court costs and fees) to a range of $200 to $400 for a first offense, $400 to $600 for a second, and up to $800 and three insurance points for subsequent violations.
These changes follow the adoption in 2012 of the “Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis Law,” which says that a defendant involved in a crash while operating a hand-held wireless telephone can be presumed to be engaged in reckless driving.
Prosecutors are empowered to charge the offender with committing vehicular homicide or assault when an injury or death occurs from a reckless crash.
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