Distractions behind the wheel can be deadly, and New Jersey lawmakers are cracking down on distracted drivers to combat these dangerous choices.
Before July 1, 2014, texting while driving was punishable by a $100 fine. However, lawmakers increased these penalties in hopes of deterring drivers from picking up the phone behind the wheel. As of July 1, 2014, a first offense is punishable by $200-400 in fines; a second offense is punishable by $400-600 in fines; and third or subsequent offenses are punishable by $600 to $800 in fines. Drivers who receive three separate texting-while-driving citations can lose their driving privileges for 90 days and will receive three points on their driving record. In order to enforce the new regulations, local law enforcement agencies have increased patrols that focus on distracted drivers. The revenue from these increased fines will also be used by the Motor Vehicle Commission to develop public education programming about the dangers of distracted driving.
“In recent years smartphones and other devices have become more sophisticated and it’s clear to most of us that they’re being used more by drivers,” said Acting Director of the Division of Highway Traffic Safety Gary Poedubicky in a 2014 statement. “Though the overall picture of road safety is brightening, one cannot help but conclude that there is an increasing addiction to distraction for drivers. We need to put an end to the epidemic of driver inattention and close the book on the ‘Distracted Driving Decade.’”
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It is no secret that distracted driving is a serious problem nationwide. More than 3,300 people were killed by distracted drivers in 2012 and another 421,000 people were injured, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Distracted driving accounts for about 16 percent of fatal crashes, according to federal estimates, and the Governors Highway Safety Association attributes between 15 and 25 percent of accidents to distractions behind the wheel.
Texting and talking on the phone are the two most well-recognized distractions. However, these distractions can come in a number of forms, including:
- Adjusting the radio, CD player, or mp3 player
- Talking to other passengers
- Watching a video
- Applying makeup or fixing hair
- Reading, including work materials or maps
- Typing into or adjusting a navigation system
- Tending to pets
- Reaching for items in the passenger seat or back seat
While distractions are a problem year-round for New Jersey drivers, some parts of the years are more deadly than others. The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is the deadliest 100-day period for teenage drivers, and parents are encouraged to ensure their children are practicing safe driving habits during these summer months.
In fact, distracted driving has grown to be such a problem that Acting New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman declared the last ten years the “distracted driving decade” in 2014. Between 2004 and 2013, distracted drivers contributed to approximately 1.4 million crashes in New Jersey—nearly half of all crashes in the state during that time frame.