New Jersey launches crackdown on distracted driving

Stacey Sager reporting
April 1, 2014 3:31:34 PM PDT
Beginning Tuesday, drivers talking and texting on their phones will be the focus of a new statewide crackdown by law enforcement agencies across New Jersey .

Sixty police departments will receive $5,000 each from the Division of Highway Traffic Safety to pay for increased patrols and checkpoints, and many more agencies are expected to participate in the new program, called "U Drive. U Text. U Pay."

The crackdown, which runs through April 21, are similar in scope to the "Drive Sober, or Get Pulled Over" and "Click It or Ticket" mobilizations, which 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," acting Attorney General John Hoffman said. "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."

The $300,000-campaign is part of a nationwide effort 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," Division of Highway Traffic Safety acting director Gary Poedubicky said. "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."

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.

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.