|TRENTON – Beginning today, drivers talking and texting on their phones will be the focus of a new statewide crackdown by law enforcement agencies, which will be using funding from the Division of Highway Traffic Safety to pay for increased patrols and checkpoints.
Sixty police departments will receive $5,000 each and many more agencies are expected to participate unfunded in the new program, called “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.,” which runs until April 21. 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.
“Distracted driving is without a doubt a major threat to everyone on or near the road in New Jersey,” said Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman. “Drivers should be focused on one task: driving. Texting, talking or playing games on a smart phone are an unwelcome and unsafe distraction. The dangers of driver inattention are staggering, placing drivers, passengers and pedestrians alike in harm’s way. This initiative is a needed boost to law enforcement, whose presence on the road positively impacts the driving behaviors of the public.”
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.
“The successes of the ‘Click It or Ticket’ and ‘Drive Sober, or Get Pulled Over’ campaigns have proven that the combination of tough laws, targeted advertising, and high-visibility enforcement can change people’s risky traffic safety behaviors,” said Division of Highway Traffic Safety Acting Director Gary Poedubicky. “Distracted driving is the new frontier for our partners in law enforcement like seat belt use and impaired driving were before. Those programs produced safer roads and driving habits, and we are aiming for the same results with this new initiative.”
Poedubicky said this strategy was implemented following the “Phone in One Hand. Ticket in the Other” distraction demonstrations, which were piloted from 2010-2013 in Connecticut, New York, Delaware and California. In those projects, texting (and cell phone use) declined dramatically. Based on these encouraging results, NHTSA developed “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.”
The campaign is national in scope, and states that applied and that have primary enforcement of their text messaging laws were awarded approximately $8 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation to support this and other efforts designed to fight distracted driving. The national “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” enforcement blitz is also supported by an $8.5 million national advertising campaign, designed to raise awareness about the enforcement effort and remind people about the deadly consequences of driving and texting.
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, on July 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.