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Madden Bill To Create A Task Force Addressing Distracted Driving Clears Committee

Senator Fred Madden at the first meeting of the Senate Task Force on Health Insurance Exchange Implementation

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Fred H. Madden creating the “Task Force on Distracted Driving” was passed by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee yesterday.

The bill, S-383, creates the task force, who’s responsibility would be to study and develop recommendations concerning the issue of driver distractions and highway safety including, but not limited to, electronic communication devices.

“Even with the number of deaths and injuries that have occurred as a result of distracted driving, we still see people on our roadways texting and talking while driving,” said Senator Madden (D-Camden/Gloucester). “We have taken action try to prevent texting and driving on our roadways, but statistics show that it is still happening at an alarming rate. Technology is at our fingertips, and drivers are becoming more and more tempted to send and read text messages or emails, which they may assume is harmless. As a former police officer, I can tell you that any second your eyes are off the road is a dangerous second.”

According to the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety, distracted driving is a dangerous epidemic on New Jersey’s roadways, and was cited as a major contributing factor in over 817,000 motor vehicle crashes in the state from 2010 to 2014. Nationwide, an estimated 431,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that driver distraction is a factor in approximately 16 percent of crashes across the country. This includes other types of distracted driving such as adjusting the radio or eating.

An article published last June on reported there were over 1,000 calls reporting distracted drivers on New Jersey roads in first two months of the State’s re-branded program designed to combat distracted driving.

The task force created under the bill would consist of 13 members: The Commissioner of Transportation, the Commissioner of Education, the Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, and the Director of the Division of Highway Traffic Safety in the Department of Law and Public Safety would serve on the task force. The superintendent of State Police, a member of the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey and New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors Association also would be appointed to the task force.  In addition, five public members would be included, including three members with education or experience in highway traffic safety, one member representing driving schools licensed by the Chief Administrator and one member representing the insurance industry.  Of the five public members, three would be appointed by the Governor, one by the Senate President, and one by the Speaker of the General Assembly.

The bill would require the task force to develop recommendations for public and private strategies and recommendations for legislative or regulatory action, if deemed appropriate, to address the issue of driver distractions. The recommendations would include suggestions for the development of a public information campaign to increase the awareness of the risks associated with driving distractions and to educate and inform motorists of methods to eliminate or minimize these risks.

In 2013, Senator Madden was the sponsor of “Nikki’s Law”, which requires the DOT Commissioner to erect signs and use variable message signs to inform motorists of State law prohibiting texting while driving. Furthermore, Senator Madden sponsored S-69, which set the penalties for distracted driving in New Jersey as follows:

  •  $200-$400 fine for a first offense.
  •  $400-$600 fine for a second offense.
  •  $600-$800 fine, three motor vehicle points, and up to a 90 day license suspension for a third offense.

S-383 was approved by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee by a vote of 6-0, and next goes to the Senate for further consideration.