April is distracted driving awareness month. Throughout the month, New Jersey police are targeting distracted drivers who use a hand-held phone while behind the wheel. Sixty police departments across the state will participate in the campaign, using funds from the Division of Highway Traffic Safety to pay for increased patrols and checkpoints. The campaign is called “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.”
Law enforcement in New Jersey also received national funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation, one of eight “primary enforcement” states that received $8 million to fight distracted driving. A primary enforcement state is one that allows an officer to pull over a driver just for talking on a hand-held phone while driving. Some states will only ticket a distracted driver if he or she is pulled over for another offense such as speeding.
The campaign is similar to drunk driving campaigns that have had success in the past. A “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 in a press release about the campaign.
In New Jersey, a first-time distracted driving ticket costs $100. On July 1, that fine will increase to $200 to $400.
New Jersey has made it illegal to operate a hand-held phone while driving. Only hands-free communication devices can be used while driving. Yet the practice persists. The Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll for the Division of Highway Traffic Safety found that 72 percent of New Jersey drivers “very often” see people talking on a hand-held phone while driving. Another 40 percent said the same about texting.
Up to 1,000 people die every year by distracted drivers in the U.S. and as many as half a million people are injured each year in distracted driving car accidents.
Distracted Driving Is Reckless Driving
In 2012, Governor Chris Christie signed into law the “Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis’ Law.” This law holds that if a defendant was operating a hand-held cellphone gives a presumption that the driver was engaged in reckless driving. If another person is injured by a distracted driver, the driver may face vehicular homicide or assault charges.
The person injured also has civil remedies available. People injured by a distracted driver can sue to recover medical expenses, lost wages and other cash damages.
Distracted driving is a common problem that can lead to devastating consequences. People injured by a distracted driver should contact a skilled personal injury attorney to discuss their legal options and get help with their recovery.