|WEST TRENTON – Responding to an 8 percent spike in New Jersey traffic fatalities in 2016, largely attributable to the increasing scourge of distracted driving, Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division of Highway Traffic Safety are announcing a new initiative to provide state residents with a method to report dangerous drivers in order to protect motorists and pedestrians.
The state’s #77 alert system, previously used for reporting aggressive driving, will now be used to report all forms of dangerous driving, from those operating a vehicle while looking at a cell phone to those driving while impaired. Enforcement measures are being stepped up on the road, and in an initiative believed to be one of the first of its kind in the nation, warning letters will be directed to those spotted driving while distracted on New Jersey roadways.
Traffic fatalities in New Jersey rose from 562 in 2015 to 604 in 2016, an average of 12 deaths a week. Division of Highway Traffic Safety officials have said the increase is in part because of distracted driving, such as cell phone use behind the wheel. In 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Teens were the largest age group reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes.
“These deaths and injuries are not simply statistics. Those are husbands and wives, sons and daughters, parents and grandparents. How many would still be alive today if others had been paying full attention to driving?” said Attorney General Porrino. “The main mission of the Attorney General’s Office is to promote and protect public safety, and protecting motorists and pedestrians is as important any other initiative we take. We have an obligation to those who suffered losses to combat distracted driving with every means we have.”
“By employing #77 to fight distracted driving, we are giving everyone in New Jersey a role in making our roadways safer,” said Gary Poedubicky, Acting Director of the Division of Highway Traffic Safety. “Motorists and pedestrians can and should be our eyes on the road, helping to protect their neighbors and friends and perhaps changing attitudes as well.”
The current system allows motorists and pedestrians who witness aggressive driving to call #77 to report it. Those calls are answered in the call room of the New Jersey State Police Regional Operations and Intelligence Center in West Trenton. The calls are then forwarded to the local police agency with jurisdiction, which in certain circumstances can respond to the call and, if the behavior is witnessed, issue a summons.
The protocol of #77 will remain the same, but those who witness dangerous driving of all types will now be able to call the number. In addition, if the license plate of the alleged dangerous driver is gathered, a letter detailing the time and place of the observed offense may be sent to the vehicle owner’s home.
“We believe this will serve as a deterrent to future offenses,” said Attorney General Porrino. “And if, for instance, it is a teen driver operating a parent’s vehicle, the letter may serve as a teaching tool, hopefully spurring better driving habits in the future.”
This does not mean that those who spot distracted drivers should text while driving themselves. The Division of Highway Traffic Safety is urging drivers to either pull over in order to make the call, use a hands-free device or have a passenger in the vehicle make the call. Pedestrians, of course, may call #77 as well. Only report what you see when it is safe to do so.
The Attorney General and the Division of Highway Traffic Safety are partnering with the New Jersey State Police, Department of Transportation, the Motor Vehicle Commission, the New Jersey Police Traffic Officer’s Association and the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police in order to bolster the effort to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.
To aid with the rebranding of #77, road signage along the state’s major highways will be changed to note the new initiative and digital signage will also tout the effort. A public awareness campaign, including radio spots and advertisements on buses and billboards, will kick off in April as well.
The new #77 initiative runs parallel with the state’s 2017 distracted driving crackdown, called “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” As part of that campaign, more than 190 police agencies throughout New Jersey have received a total of $1,204,500 in federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration grants to help with enforcement efforts. That program runs from April 1 through April 21.
With that money, police departments, including the State Police, will be deploying plain-clothes officers to watch for cell phone users at intersections and interchanges along New Jersey roadways. Marked vehicles can then be contacted to stop and cite drivers. Also, departments will be using high-visibility patrol vehicles, such as SUVs, where officers in the passenger seat can look down into vehicles to spot distracted drivers for citation.
Follow the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office online at Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube. The social media links provided are for reference only. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office does not endorse any non-governmental websites, companies or applications.