A two week pilot program aimed at stopping drivers from talking and texting on cell phones, the statewide “Hang Up, Just Drive” campaign, ends on Sunday, March 15. And if you have traveled Route 1 through Lawrenceville, you might have noticed more motorists pulled over than usual.
Lieutenant Charles Edgar of the Lawrence Police Department, one of 18 departments in the state to receive a $4,000 grant to engage in “Hang Up, Just Drive,” said that even before the campaign reached its first weekend the department had ticketed nearly 150 drivers. Edgar is not sure how many cell phone tickets the Lawrence PD writes in a normal month, but he does know it is a lot less. Regardless of the month, though, be aware that for every driver caught talking, officers write another $100 ticket.
While some pundits have argued that talking while driving is as dangerous as drunken driving — even Princeton University’s resident brain expert, Sam Wang, has equated driving while talking to driving after two drinks — Edgar says the dangers are not quite the same as those involving alcohol. Especially with a hands-free phone or speaker phone, which Edgar equates to speaking with a passenger. However, he says, driving while on the phone is a dangerous activity, particularly on a highway, or fast, major thoroughfare such as Route 1.
Particularly problematic, Edgar says, is texting while driving, which the department has come across. “Texting is extremely dangerous,” Edgar says, adding that he hopes most people have the common sense to know that already. Still, he says, the department has written tickets for it, particularly among younger drivers who are more used to the technology. And at least no one has been involved in a serious accident because of it. Yet.
“Hang Up, Just Drive,” announced and sponsored by the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety was designed to highlight the dangers of an often-overlooked (though illegal) activity, as well as combat the perception that the 2008 law making talking while driving a justifiable traffic stop has simply not been enforced.
“We know that in 2007 driver inattention was a contributing factor in 22,641 traffic crashes. Of these crashes, 1,866 crashes involved hand-held phones and 1,421 involved talking hands-free,” said HTS director Pam Fischer. “A driver’s attention should be focused solely on driving, period. Any phone conversation, whether it’s hand-held or hands-free, is distracting and can instantly take a driver’s mind and eyes off the road, creating a potentially deadly situation.”
Fischer added that according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of New Jersey motorists, 59 percent say they never use a hand-held cell phone while driving, yet 79 percent say that they see others violating the law.
“The public perception is that this law is not being enforced, and that’s simply not true,” Fischer stated. Between March, 2008, and January more than 108,000 tickets were issued to cell phone violators.”