A three-week mobilization to crackdown on distracted drivers, using $300,000 in grant money from the Division of Highway Traffic Safety to fund increased patrols and checkpoints, was "kicked off" in Woodbridge Wednesday.
Sixty police departments have received $5,000 each and many more agencies are expected to participate unfunded in the new program. Agencies in Middlesex and Somerset counties received the most funding: $50,000 each.
The municipalities receiving the funding in Middlesex County are: Dunellen, East Brunswick, Edison, Metuchen, New Brunswick, North Brunswick, Sayreville, South Brunswick, Spotswood and Woodbridge.
“The Woodbridge Police Department Traffic Enforcement Unit is one of one of the first units in the state to establish special enforcement programs, patrols, and educational outreach efforts to identify and reduce instances of distracted driving and we are proud to participate in the distracted driving enforcement program as part of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month,” said Woodbridge Police Department Director Robert Hubner.
The Woodbridge Police Department, meanwhile, participated in a demonstration illustrating how some agencies will be focusing on distracted drivers. An undercover spotter on the roadside identifies violators and communicates via radio to marked units with uniformed officers located a short distance down the road.
Those units will direct those cars into a parking lot where they will be issued summonses for using a handheld electronic device while driving.
“Talking on the phone or texting while driving is one of the most dangerous bad habits you can have,” said Division of Highway Traffic Safety Acting Director Gary Poedubicky. “When a driver is distracted, the 3,000-pound vehicle they’re supposed to be operating is not being properly controlled. So many of the tragedies we see began with a text or phone call.”
Through April 21, drivers talking and texting on their phones are the focus of this new statewide initiative by law enforcement agencies called “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.”
“We believe that the best way to stop distracted driving is through education and proactive enforcement. This coordinated multi-agency enforcement campaign is a very effective initiative to make our roads safer for drivers and pedestrians,” said Middlesex County Department of Public Safety and Health Chairperson, Freeholder H. James Polos.
The increased enforcements measures come as distracted driving has become one of the most dangerous driver habits. Polling by Fairleigh-Dickinson University reported that 91 percent New Jerseyans said they have seen other drivers talking on a cell phone while driving either “very often” or “sometimes” and 71 percent had seen other drivers texting while driving either “very often” or “sometimes”.
“It’s clear that many drivers have a casual attitude towards driving distracted and think they’ve got the requisite skills to text and be safe behind the wheel. Those drivers need to get the message that they can’t safely and effectively drive while updating Twitter or calling a friend. Historically, the best way to get that point across with a high-visibility enforcement campaign like this one,” Poedubicky said.
It is illegal in New Jersey to operate a motor vehicle while using a handheld electronic device. Currently, motorists violating New Jersey’s primary cell phone law face a $100 fine plus court costs and fees. However, onJuly 1, those penalties will rise to a range of $200 to $400 for a first offense and could increase to $800 in subsequent violations because of a new law signed Governor Chris Christie in June of 2013.
These changes follow the adoption in 2012 of the “Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis Law.” Under that law, proof that a defendant was operating a hand-held wireless telephone while driving a motor vehicle may give rise to the presumption that the defendant was engaged in reckless driving. Prosecutors are empowered to charge the offender with committing vehicular homicide or assault when an accident occurs from reckless driving.
The crackdowns are similar in scope to the “Drive Sober, or Get Pulled Over” and “Click It or Ticket” mobilizations, which have targeted impaired driving and seat belt usage, respectively.
The $300,000-campaign is part of a nationwide effort, which was developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and will coincide with nationally-recognized Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
“Even though the consequences of distracted driving can be devastating, many drivers still choose to ignore these important laws,” said Middlesex County Freeholder Ronald G. Rios. “Middlesex County is committed to providing the highest quality of life for our residents including safer roadways and we are lucky to have such outstanding partners in the community who share our goal.”
To see a list of agencies receiving funding for this initiative please visit: http://www.nj.gov/oag/hts/downloads/UDUTUP_2014_Grant_Recipients.pdf