Texting While Driving on NJ Roads

Year-over-year, there has been a decrease in the total number of crashes causing injury in the State of New Jersey. However, despite this decrease, polls show more and more NJ motorists are using phones to text messages while they are driving. Although NJ has instituted cell phone laws that prohibit the use of cell phones while driving, cell phone usage among drivers continues to increase and may negatively impact the safety of our roadways.

New Jersey’s cell phone law, which went into effect on March 1, 2008, prohibits texting and talking on hand-held phones while driving. Motorists violating the law face a $100 fine plus court costs and fees. Despite the institution of the law, the number of total injured in accidents involving hand-held cell phones dropped only slightly from 565 in 2007 to 549 in 2008 while the number of total injured as a result of these crashes increased (765 in 2007 to 795 in 2008) with fatalities rising to 7 in 2008 up from 2 in 2007.

Pam Fischer, Director of the State’s Division of Highway Traffic Safety was quoted as saying, “We’re enforcing this law. Law enforcement is out there. They are writing tickets every day but there are a lot more people out there violating the law than there are police officers writing tickets.”

According to a 2009 study by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind Poll, co-sponsored by the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, 21% say that they have sent a text while driving, up from 15% the previous year.

While young people are still much more likely than their older counterparts to send a text message while driving (57% under the age of 30 say they’ve done so), older drivers are increasingly likely to join them: More than one in four (28%) drivers 30 to 44 years of age (up 8 points from 2008) say they have sent a text message while behind the wheel, along with about 1 in 8 (12%) of drivers aged 45 to 60. The only people not sending texts in traffic were those over 60; of whom only 1% sent a message while driving.

Dan Cassino, Director of Experimental Research for the PublicMind pool and a Professor of Political Science at FDU, stated, “As we embrace new technology, the number of people sending texts while driving continues to increase.” This is happening despite the fact that 86% support New Jersey’s primary cell phone and texting law, and 71% say it should be more strictly enforced. “People seem to have gotten the message about cell phones and driving, but for some reason don’t get it about texting,” Cassino continues.

Texting is just one element in a related group of bad driving behaviors on New Jersey’s roadways. Per the 2009 poll, motorists who text are also more likely to use hand-held phones behind the wheel, regularly drive over the speed limit on highways, and make rude gestures at other motorists. “The results suggest that there is a group of drivers in the State – many of whom have long commutes – who drive faster than the rest of us, and do so while multi-tasking,” said Cassino. “But I have to imagine that text messaging while making rude gestures is a bad idea at any speed.”

Despite the overall increase in texting while driving, the number of drivers who use hand-held phones while driving has stabilized after a large decline from 2007. When the poll was conducted, four out of five (80%) drivers say they “rarely” or “never” use a hand-held phone behind the wheel, unchanged from 2008, and improved from 71% in 2007. Nonetheless, 18% of respondents hold cell phones while driving “very often” or “sometimes,” and these numbers do not include people who talk on hands-free phones while driving.

Sources:
http://publicmind.fdu.edu/drivehard/NJ drivers still call – and crash – www.courierpostonline.com, March 5, 2010
http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/refdata/accident/