LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

New Jersey Encourages Motorists to Report Distracted Driving

New Jersey’s getting even tougher on distracted driving, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says claimed more than 3,400 American lives in 2015. Last year, New Jersey alone lost 604 lives, many of them in accidents caused by distracted drivers. That’s according to Attorney General Chris Porrino. NJTV News Correspondent Michael Hill asked him about how you can help.

Hill: Chris Porrino, thank you very much for talking to us. Tell me, you started a new initiative in New Jersey targeting distracted driving, is it?

Porrino: Yes, we are expanding #77 and encouraging drivers, civilians on the road, who see people who are driving and texting or sending emails to dial #77 and let the State Police know.

Hill: I would imagine in this day and age, there is a lot of that. I see it when I’m driving and I drive all over the state and I see it and I usually can tell the person in front of me when that person is distracted in some way because of how they’re driving.

Porrino: So, you’re like most people and just like me. I drive 65 miles back and forth to Trenton almost every day and I can tell before I put eyes on the person in the car who’s texting and who isn’t. You can see them sort of waving in their lane, sometimes coming out of their lane. And we decided that more needed to be done. Driving related deaths are up in New Jersey by 8 percent between ’15 and ’16 we attribute that large part to distracted driving. And so we decided to put our creative thinking caps on and we came up with this idea to expand what was the aggressive driving number to include now distracted driving too.

Hill: So, when someone calls #77, what happens?

Porrino: So, a couple of things. First, the State Police will route the call to the local jurisdiction where the report is directed at. In addition, understanding the reality that not every call is going to result in a summons. We are sending letters, warning letters to everyone who has a car that’s registered in their name, being driven by someone who is accused of or alleged to be engaged in distracted driving. We think that that’s going to help, for example for parents who own cars that their kids out driving, parents will receive a letter that their child on such and such date was engaged in texting or distracted driving and we hope that parents will intervene and prevent that from happening again in the future.

Hill: What do you respond to, what’s your response if someone hears this and says, well you know that’s not much of an effort, that somebody can still be out there doing this distracting driving, texting, calling, whatever they are doing. What do you say to them?

Porrino: It’s a real challenge and we’re one of the first, if not the first to take this step here in New Jersey. We concluded that more needed to be done. The difficulty of this it’s not like drunk driving, where you can give someone a breathalyzer after the fact and charge and convict them. Someone’s got to see it happening and that’s why we’ve enlisted the support of civilians who are driving every day and our view of it is that if a person who’s thinking about taking out their phone, or sending a text or doing something on social media will think twice because either a pedestrian walking down the street or a driver who’s in the next lane is going to report them to #77.

Hill: Now you know you’re going to have people say, ‘OK, if I see somebody texting and driving and I pick up the phone and hit #77, then I’m distracted too.

Porrino: Yeah. I appreciate you raising that actually. If you have a passenger in your car, then by all means the passenger should place that call. If you have a hands-free device in your car, you can dial #77 yourself if you’re the driver. But if you don’t, you’ve got to pull over to a safe place and make that call.

Hill: And you want information like the color of the car, the tag number and things like that?

Porrino: Exactly. The tag number, color, make, model is exactly what we would need. Again, send out a car and dispatch someone to the scene if we can. If not, send a warning letter.

Hill: Mr. Porrino, thank you.

Porrino: It’s my pleasure.