By Michael Hill
A man in a business suit talks on a flip phone, oblivious to who’s watching and perhaps to New Jersey’s 10-year-old law making it illegal to talk on a hand-held phone up to your ear while driving.
This woman did the same up the turnpike while driving slowly in the fast or passing lane. Driving deemed distracted and dangerous.
“Well they cause accidents by doing that. There’s a lot of problems when people do do that,” said Quimaine Amos.
Nationally in 2013, there were 427 fatal incidents of drivers using cell phones at the time of the crash. To avoid death and destruction, New Jersey police officers have used the law to target and ticket drivers talking and texting and run campaigns to change behavior.
“You can never have enough awareness,” said Sergeant Eric Nelson from the Woodbridge Police Departement. “Awareness and education. People say, ‘It’s not me. I’m just going around the corner. I’m only on a side street.’ Well, people crash on the side street as much as they do on the highway.”
State statistics show officers in New Jersey in 2011 wrote 90,194 tickets to drivers using cell phones; 84,719 in 2012; 82,509 in 2013 but 87,821 in 2014. Through October this year there have been 54,711 tickets issued – meaning the state is on pace to see a year-to-year decrease by 10,000 tickets.
Why? It could be because more cars on the road have hands-free capabilities, or perhaps education campaigns are working.
Nelson says money is probably one factor — there was more money spent last year to target drivers. However, is there something else at work?
When asked if there was any chance law enforcement looks at this and says that’s just the way it is in society now, Nelson said, “I would hope that’s not the case. If it is, you really have to rethink your efforts there in traffic safety. Traffic safety affects everybody.”
In just 10 minutes here at Walnut and McCarter Highway you can see how commonplace it is to find drivers talking on the phone or texting while driving.
The state considers what you’re about to see the most alarming distraction – in the blue car, a man’s head bobs up and down as his eyes leave the road. He’s apparently texting which draws on his visual, manual and cognitive attention.
“People don’t understand the dangers they’re putting themselves and the people around them at,” Nelson said.
AAA released a study recently showing even talking hands-free has a cognitive distraction 27 seconds after the call ends. It’s also concerned about hands-free voicing, or dictating text.
“Some of the technology that’s supposed to help us isn’t taking away the distraction,” said Cathleen Lewis from AAA Northeast. “That voicing to text technology is a big piece of that. Just because someone is saying something to you doesn’t mean you’re not distracted. I think that’s next piece that we have to overcome.”
For now, there’s only speculation about the falling number of tickets written for drivers using cell phones this year. Law enforcers hope drivers are recognizing the danger as opposed to less enforcement or more drivers using hands-free devices. That they’re obeying the law, but still distracted.