PHOTO: “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” campaign underway

Police departments in New Jersey, including Lakewood, are targeting distracted drivers as part of a nationwide enforcement campaign called “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.,” which seeks to stop one of the most dangerous habits that motorists display.

The Division of Highway Traffic Safety annually awards dozens of department for the initiative, and many more agencies are expected to participate unfunded. The campaign began April 1 and runs through April 21.

The crackdowns are similar in scope to the “Drive Sober, or Get Pulled Over” and “Click It or Ticket” mobilizations, which have targeted impaired driving and seat belt usage, respectively. The campaign is part of a nationwide effort, which was developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and will coincide with nationally-observed Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

The national “U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” enforcement blitz will also be supported by a multi-million dollar national advertising campaign, designed to raise awareness about the enforcement effort and remind people about the deadly consequences of driving and texting.

Researchers have found that distracted driving is a major problem, especially for young drivers. According to the AAA Foundation, analysis of crash videos of teen drivers found significant evidence that distracted driving is likely much more widespread than previously known. The organization’s new findings, issued earlier this month, found that distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes, which is four times as many as official estimates based on police reports.

Researchers analyzed the six seconds leading up to a crash in nearly 1,700 videos of teen drivers taken from in-vehicle event recorders. The results showed that distraction was a factor in 58 percent of all crashes studied; including 89 percent of road-departure crashes and 76 percent of rear-end crashes. NTHSA previously has estimated that distraction is a factor in only 14 percent of all teen driver crashes.

It is illegal in New Jersey to operate a motor vehicle while using a handheld electronic device. Violating this law subjects motorists to fines of $200 to $400 for a first offense and could increase to $800 and three insurance points in subsequent violations.

“So put down the cell phones and drive,” Police Chief Greg Meyer tells TLS.

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