Distracted driving an ‘epidemic’ in NJ: Could task force reduce risk?
A bill creating a Task Force on Driver Distractions has begun its third attempt to get approved by the Legislature.
The bill, now S561, was approved by in the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee’s first meeting of the new legislative session. But it has gotten through the Senate twice before, in 2017 and 2018, only to crash in the Assembly without a vote.
Tracy Noble, government and public affairs manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the numbers show the task force study is needed: 146 fatal crashes in New Jersey in 2018 linked to distracted driving, 1,400 crashes in all related to cell phone use.
“That outpaced impaired driving and speeding. It is the leading cause of death on our New Jersey roadways,” Noble said.
The number of fatal crashes in which inattentive driving was a contributing circumstance was actually down more than 25% from a year earlier and the smallest number since 2010. In the five years from 2014 to 2018, on average, it contributed to one fatality every other day in New Jersey.
“We know that driver distraction is an epidemic on our roadways,” Noble said.
Noble said results of a poll AAA conducted two weeks ago shows there’s a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude about the issue among New Jerseyans.
“Forty percent of those polled feel that they are not distracted while driving. Yet 90% feel that everyone else is,” Noble said. “How is that possible? How is that possible?”
The bill was passed unanimously by the Senate in each of the last two legislative sessions, only to die without a vote in the Assembly, so its advancement through the Senate doesn’t mean it will make it into law this session.
“I’m not clear why it’s been so difficult to get it done,” said state Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex, who is one of the bill’s primary sponsors. “This is just a task force to study it and make recommendations.”
The 13-member task force, including three public members with expertise on the subject, would consider all distractions, not just cell phones. In addition to a public relations campaign, it would recommend changes in state law and regulations and other private and public strategies.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.