|TRENTON – Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division of Highway Traffic Safety announced today that two months after the unveiling of a rebranded #77 program, designed to combat increased incidents of distracted driving, the state has received more than 1,000 calls reporting distracted drivers on New Jersey roadways.
The #77 program, first instituted in 1995 to combat aggressive driving, was expanded in April in a unique initiative to deal with a significant increase in deaths along New Jersey roadways. The Division of Highway Traffic Safety said the increase – from 562 in 2015 to 603 in 2016 – was due in part to the burgeoning numbers of distracted drivers.
The new initiative opened up #77 to callers reporting drivers using cell phones or otherwise driving distracted. In addition, the New Jersey State Police has sent letters, where possible, to those reported. The letters warn motorists that their vehicles have been spotted being driven dangerously or by a distracted driver and informed them of the penalties if caught by police. As of June 6, 1,071 calls about distracted drivers have been received, and 632 letters have been mailed.
Reaching the 1,000-call mark within two months indicates how successful the program has been so far.
“We always said that if we could save one life with this program, it would be worthwhile,” said Attorney General Porrino. “Now New Jerseyans know first-hand that the entire state is paying attention and will not tolerate those who create dangerous conditions on our roads because they can’t wait to use or can’t put down their cell phones.”
In addition to the 1,000 calls, a statewide crackdown on distracted driving, funded in part by grants from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, resulted in 15,292 summonses for cell phone use/texting and another 7,003 for careless driving. Also, law enforcement agencies participating in the program issued 8,284 summonses for speeding and 7,343 for summonses for seat-belt law violations.
“The UDrive. UText. UPay. program helped to spread the word that police are taking seriously the impact that unsafe driving has on the public,” said Gary Poedubicky, Acting Director of the Division of Highway Traffic Safety. “Our hope is that those ticketed and those made aware that the police are watching will slow down, pay attention to the road and perhaps save their own lives and the lives of others.”
Fatalities on New Jersey roadways have decreased 7.4 percent, year-to-date, from 229 in 2016 to 212 in 2017, according to New Jersey State Police statistics last updated on June 6.
More than $1.2 million in federal grants were delivered to 188 police agencies to help fund the overtime enforcement efforts associated with the UDrive. UText. UPay. crackdown, according to the Division. The crackdown, which ran from April 1 to April 21, was part of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
The #77 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. If the license plate of the alleged dangerous driver is gathered, a letter detailing the time and place of the observed offense is sent to the vehicle owner’s home.
This does not mean that those who spot distracted drivers should text while driving themselves. Those making a report must 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.
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