The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that distracted driving was responsible for 3,142 fatalities in 2020 alone. Activities that divert a driver’s attention from the road, such as texting, talking on a phone, eating, or drinking while driving or adjusting the vehicle’s navigation system can all qualify as dangerous distractions.
Unfortunately, the problem is more than just a national issue. Here in New Jersey, officials report distracted driving was a leading cause of crashes and responsible for a third of fatal car wrecks from 2011 through 2020, outpacing crashes resulting from drunk driving and speeding.
Are there laws to protect drivers?
There are criminal laws that punish those who drink and drive or drive over the speed limit. Use of a smart phone while driving is also often illegal. New Jersey is one of 24 states in the country where it is against state law to use a hand-held phone while driving. This is a primary law. This means enforcement officers can pull a driver over simply for having a phone in their hand — they do not need another reason to conduct the traffic stop.
Is New Jersey doing anything else to address this problem?
State officials recently announced the kick off of the “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” campaign, running through the month of April. The campaign includes an increase in education and enforcement efforts throughout the state. Education efforts are present through the use of media reports and roadway signs. When it comes to enforcement efforts, Highway Traffic Safety provided additional funding so enforcement agencies can have more officers on the roads to stop and ticket those who violate these laws. A violation can come with a fine, as well as three insurance points.
This is not the first year the state ran this campaign. Last year, the campaign resulted in over 8,000 citations for cell phone use and 4,000 for careless driving. Officials are hopeful the campaign will encourage safe driving practices and reduce fatal car wrecks throughout the state.
What if I am injured in a distracted driving crash?
There are legal remedies available if the other driver was distracted and that distraction resulted in a crash that caused injury or property damage. This can result in funds to help cover the expense of medical treatment, replacement or repair of a vehicle, lost wages, and other damages.