The New Jersey Attorney General used the phrase "distracted driver decade" to describe the 10 years from 2004 to 2013, a period which saw 1.4 million motor vehicle accidents caused by driver inattention. Driver inattention was reportedly a major factor in more than 1,600 traffic fatalities over the same ten years. And the problem is getting worse, not better.
In 2013, driver inattention was a major factor in more than half of New Jersey car accidents. This is an 11 percent increase over the 42 percent reported for the year 2004. In an effort to combat the problem, the Division of Highway Traffic Safety has distributed $5,000 to each of 60 New Jersey police departments. The funds are to be used for checkpoints and patrols as part of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration program called "U Drive. U Text. U Pay." An NHTSA administrator said the organization was serious about stopping distracted driving.
The state of New Jersey has banned both text messaging and talking on hand-held devices while driving. Penalties currently include a minimum $100 fine plus court costs, but the penalties are set to increase on July 1, 2014. Hands-free devices, while not illegal in New Jersey, may still take attention away from the road. A study conducted by the University of Iowa Public Policy Center found that using a hands-free cell phone while driving significantly reduced the driver's focus.
With distracted driving being blamed more and more car accident injuries, it is becoming an issue in more civil cases as well. Those who have been injured as a result of inattentive driving may have claims for lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. Evidence of text messaging or other distracted driving at the time of a car accident may be admissible in a civil proceeding.
Source: NJ.com, "Distracted driving linked to 1.4 million crashes in N.J. during past 10 years", Amy Ellis Nutt, April 15, 2014