April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and from April 1 through April 21, New Jersey enforced the “U Drive. U Text. U Pay” campaign to ticket distracted drivers.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 3,166 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2017. In New Jersey, there was a total of 1,134 crashes related to cell phone usage with 407 hand-held and 361 hands-free incidents as stated by the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
In New Jersey, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while using a handheld electronic device. Fines for breaking the law can range from $200 to $800 and possible 3 motor vehicle points addition on a third offense.
Because texting or using a cell phone requires undivided attention from the driver, it is considered the primary distraction. But in New Jersey, eating or drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, using a navigation system or even adjusting the radio is also considered a distraction.
Junior Aris Paulino wasn’t aware that these types of distractions were considered by the state, but understands why they would be. He admits he’s nearly been involved in accidents while driving distracted.
“I’ve almost been into accidents while eating or doing stuff like that, like looking at the map on my phone,” said Paulino. “Almost, but it hasn’t happened, fortunately.”
Since 2007, drivers from ages 16-24 have had higher rates of using electronic devices while driving than older drivers. Sophomore Damian Cordova is one of them.
Besides being a commuter student at Saint Peter’s, Cordova does catering all throughout the state. Although he doesn’t text while driving, he often drives with one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding his map on his phone. While doing this he fears getting stopped by the cops, but explains that he needs his map to get to his destination.
“It seems irresponsible to have it near me while driving so I don’t get lost,” said Cordova. “But I’m so accustomed to it so it doesn’t really bother me and it’s not like I’m not focused on the road. I rarely look at it… it’s just to get a general sense of what exit to take.”
Although drivers from ages 15 to 19 and 20 to 29 were the two largest groups of drivers involved in crashes while being distracted, Cordova doesn’t think he is part of this particular statistic.
“I don’t consider myself within that spectrum because I have been accident-free for a while and when I did get into an accident it was a woman who was much older than me,” explained Cordova.
Regardless of the age group, distracted driving is considered a dangerous epidemic in New Jersey.
The state is one of the four states nationwide to receive federal grant funding to take action towards distracted driving. The other states include Maine, Connecticut and Oregon.
Although these enforcements are concerning to some drivers when it comes to ticketing, it is also a relief.
“A lot of crazy people get their license easily and they’re out there causing accidents so I think it’s a good thing,” expressed Paulino.