CLARK, NJ — Distracted driving has become an increasing safety concern for officials. And with Clark positioned at a key junction on the Garden State Parkway for several Union County towns, the issue is especially important.
That makes Clark an active participant in the national “UDrive. UText. UPay.” enforcement initiative. In New Jersey, the effort is funded by the state Department of Law and Public Safety.
With the entrance and exit to the Garden State Parkway being on the main roadway of Central Avenue, “Clark sees a high volume of traffic,” Clark police Sgt. Christian Lott said in a March 29 phone interview with LocalSource.
“This high volume, combined with people driving distracted, statistically increases the amount of accidents we see,” he added.
Distracted driving has been named as a leading contributing factor in more than 817,000 motor vehicle crashes in New Jersey between 2010 and 2014.
The national awareness campaign began Sunday, April 1, and will run through April 21.
The towns of Clark, Cranford, Linden, Rahway and Union — which all have major highways — are among about 200 government entities across the state taking part in the awareness campaign.
In Clark, this means roving patrols during five-hour blocks of time that consist of police officers actively looking for people talking or texting while driving, said Lott, who is heading the campaign.
Distracted driving can be anything from fiddling with the radio to commanding GPS navigation, but a large number of cited accidents result from people using their cell phones while driving.
The National Safety Council reports that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes per year, and texting while driving causes nearly 330,000 injuries.
Additionally, one out in every four car accidents in the United States is caused by texting while driving, the NSC reports.
According to the N.J. Attorney General’s Office website, 3,179 people were killed nationally in 2014 due to crashes involving distracted driving.
Not only does phone use increase the chance of an accident occurring, but the legal penalties involved are high, Lott told LocalSource.
He said that the first offense for a cell phone driving ticket includes a mandatory court appearance, and a fine that ranges from $200 to $400.
The second offense lists a fine of $400 to $600, and the third offense may result in a license suspension of up to 90 days, Lott said.
“Hopefully, through advertisements, motor vehicle stops and by word of mouth, people will realize how dangerous this behavior is,” Lott told LocalSource.“We just want people to put their phone down while driving. It’s not worth it.”
While this is the first year Clark is taking part in the enforcement campaign, last year the town participated in the “Click it or Ticket” seat belt initiative, during which Clark police issued 144 summonses in 100 hours, according to Lott.