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April 06, 2017

New Jersey bolsters effort to crack down on distracted driving

Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road when driving in New Jersey as law enforcement targets distracted drivers.

Expanding the state's “U Drive. U Text. U Pay" safe driving initiative, Garden State officials are giving motorists additional tools to report dangerous driving to police.

On Thursday, Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino joined law enforcement personnel to announce the state has revamped the #77 alert system in an attempt to make roads and highways safer. In 2016, the state recorded 604 deaths due to traffic crashes, an eight-percent increase over 2015. Transportations officials attribute the spike to distracted driving.

“These deaths and injuries are not simply statistics," Porrino said. "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?”

The hotline was originally created to report aggressive driving, but will now account for all forms of dangerous driving. Activities include looking at a cell phone, driving while impaired, reckless driving and more.

Motorists and pedestrians are urged to call the hotline from the safe location. The call will be picked up by New Jersey State Police Regional Operations and Intelligence Center in West Trenton. Reports will be relayed to the local police agency to possibly investigate the matter. Citations will only be issued if an officer observes an offense.

Furthermore, if the license plate of the alleged dangerous driver is reported, state officials will issue a letter outlining the time and place of the observed offense to the vehicle owner’s home.

“We believe this will serve as a deterrent to future offenses,” Porrino said. “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.”

Road crews will install signage along the state’s major highways to inform the public about the changes. The campaign will kick off in April featuring radio spots and advertisements on buses and billboards.

More than 190 police agencies throughout New Jersey have received more than $1.2 million in federal grants to enforce distracted driving laws. The funds are allowing departments to deploy plain-clothes officers to watch for cell phone users at intersections.

“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.”