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Citizens' Calls Produce 630+ Warning Letters To Distracted NJ Drivers

Traffic fatalities in New Jersey rose from 562 in 2015 to 604 in 2016 -- an average of 12 deaths a week, authorities said.
Traffic fatalities in New Jersey rose from 562 in 2015 to 604 in 2016 -- an average of 12 deaths a week, authorities said. Photo Credit: CLIFFVIEW PILOT file photo

DIAL #77: More than 630 drivers have gotten warning letters after being reported by citizens in the two months since New Jersey launched a unique program to combat distracted driving, state officials said.

The letters “warn motorists that their vehicles have been spotted being driven dangerously or by a distracted driver and informed them of the penalties if caught by police,” Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino said.

More than 1,000 calls of distracted driving have come in since the Dial #77 program was rebranded in April. It was originally created in 1995 to report aggressive motorists.

Deaths along New Jersey roadways have increased nearly 8 percent from 2015 to 2016 – to an average of 12 deaths per week -- primary because of the increasing number of distracted drivers, state Division of Highway Traffic Safety officials say.

Teens were the largest age group reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes.

As of June 6, 1,071 calls about distracted drivers came in through #77, producing 632 letters.

The #77 calls are answered in the call room of the New Jersey State Police Regional Operations and Intelligence Center in West Trenton.

The calls are then forwarded to the local police agency with jurisdiction -- which in certain circumstances can respond to the call and, if the behavior is witnessed, issue a summons.

If the license plate of the alleged dangerous driver is gathered, a letter detailing the time and place of the observed offense is sent to the vehicle owner’s home.

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NOTE: This doesn’t mean you should text while driving when you see a distracted driver.

“Those making a report must either pull over in order to make the call, use a hands-free device or have a passenger in the vehicle make the call,” Porrino said. “Only report what you see when it is safe to do so….Pedestrians, of course, may call #77 as well.”

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Reaching the 1,000-call mark within two months proves the concept’s value, Porrino said.

“We always said that if we could save one life with this program, it would be worthwhile,” the attorney general said. “Now New Jerseyans know first-hand that the entire state is paying attention and will not tolerate those who create dangerous conditions on our roads because they can’t wait to use or can’t put down their cell phones.”

Besides the 1,000 calls, a statewide crackdown on distracted driving the first three weeks of April produced 15,292 summonses for cell phone use/texting and another 7,003 for careless driving, he said.

Law enforcement agencies who participated in the program -- , funded in part by grants from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration -- issued 8,284 summonses for speeding and 7,343 for seat-belt law violations.

“Our hope is that those ticketed and those made aware that the police are watching will slow down, pay attention to the road and perhaps save their own lives and the lives of others,” said Gary Poedubicky, acting director of the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

At the very least, Porrino said, “we believe [the letters] will serve as a deterrent to future offenses.

“If, for instance, it is a teen driver operating a parent’s vehicle, the letter may serve as a teaching tool, hopefully spurring better driving habits in the future,” the attorney general said.

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