The past 10 years have been dubbed “New Jersey’s Distracted Driving Decade” by the state’s Acting Attorney General John Hoffman, who announced Monday an ongoing initiative aimed at combating what he says is a dangerous trend.
According to the announcement, driver inattention played a role in about 1.4 million crashes in New Jersey between 2004 and 2013, about half the total number of crashes in the state. Hoffman attributed 1,600 deaths to distracted driving between 2003 and 2012.
“What is perhaps most troubling about these numbers is that the issue of distracted driving seems to be getting progressively worse,” Hoffman said in the release.
“Our research indicates that while crashes and fatalities are trending downward as a whole, the number and proportion of distracted crashes are rising.”
Hoffman points to smartphone use in cars as a major contributing factor, and gave an update on a law enforcement initiative – “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” – meant to curb cell phone-related distracted driving.
The Division of Highway Traffic Safety has provided $5,000 grants to 60 police departments across the state meant to help them “crack down” on distracted cell phone driving, Hoffman said in the release.
The funds are being used to create check points and increased patrols between April 1 and 21. About halfway through the campaign, cops in participating municipalities had issued about 3,000 summonses for electronic device violations, the release said.
The campaign is meant to combine with impending increased penalties for those types of violations. Starting in July, cell phone ticket prices will jump from $100 for a first offense to between $200 and $400.
“People need to know that we are serious about stopping this deadly behavior,” NHTSA Region 2 Administrator Thomas M. Louizou said in the release.
“Using a handheld phone and texting has reached epidemic levels. 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.”
According to Hoffman, even towns throughout the state that did not receive the $5,000 grant have committed to conducting a campaign to deter distracted driving this month. To see a full list of the towns that received funding, click here.