Home • Burlington County News Hitting the road with a cell phone in hand can cost lives 

Hitting the road with a cell phone in hand can cost lives 

Pennsylvania will soon ban drivers from handling cell phones for almost any purpose while driving, a measure first introduced by the state’s governor, Josh Shapiro, 18 years ago, according to the Associated Press.

The law – expected to be in effect a year after Shapiro signs it – will bring Pennsylvania into alignment with similar measures in neighboring states, including New Jersey. And not surprisingly, the Garden State’s related laws are strict.

Texting while driving is prohibited at any time here, unless hands-free technology is used, according to dmv.com. The law has been expanded to apply to all drivers, regardless of age or type of driver’s license. Exceptions include using a phone in the face of a threat to the driver and/or passengers, or if a motor-vehicle accident or other emergency requires a hand-held phone to call police or other law enforcement.

Nationally, distracted driving claimed 3,500 lives and injured more than 362,000 people in 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The agency defines distracted driving as “any activity that diverts attention from driving,” including talking or texting on the phone, eating, drinking or even fiddling with knobs on the dashboard. 

Distracted driving in New Jersey occurs most often when drivers are attempting to manage multiple tasks at once. For roughly 10 years, such driving – also called driver inattention – has been the largest contributing factor in the state’s fatal crashes, based on an annual state police analysis. 

According to data from 2022, 49% of New Jersey drivers involved in crashes were engaged in distracted behavior that resulted in 180 fatalities and more than 1,500 serious injuries, according to the office of Attorney General Matthew Platkin.

“Staying focused behind the wheel from the moment you step into your car is crucial in preventing a possible tragedy,” he said. ” … Increased enforcement efforts against distracted driving help ensure that drivers keep their attention on the road and off their phones.”

New Jersey’s rules may have accounted for a drop in distracted driving of 10.25%, according to the NHTSA, with 685 lives lost in 2022 and 615 the following year. Stiffer penalties have played a part as well: Violations can result in fines ranging from $200 to $400 for a first offense and up to $800 for subsequent violations. 

Last year, officials handed out 7,130 citations for cell phone use or texting while driving, according to Platkin.

The governor’s office suggests drivers think about distracted driving this way, according to dmv.org: Texting takes your eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that is enough time to drive the length of a football field blindfolded.

Don’t be blinded by distracted driving, urges Michael J. Rizol Jr., director of the state’s Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

“Every second behind the wheel,” he noted, “demands a driver’s full attention.”

For more information on traffic safety efforts by the state’s Division of Highway Traffic Safety, visit njsaferoads.com. For advice on how to avoid texting in your car, go to nhtsa.org. 

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