Distracted drivers, you have been warned 

TRENTON –

N.J. Attorney General Christopher Porrino and the Division of Highway Traffic Safety announced last week that two months after unveiling a rebranded #77 program, designed to combat distracted driving, the state has received more than 1,000 calls reporting such drivers on state roadways.

The #77 program, first instituted in 1995 to combat aggressive driving, was expanded in April to deal with a significant increase in deaths on N.J. roads — 562 in 2015 to 603 in 2016 —  due in part to the burgeoning numbers of distracted drivers.

The new initiative opened up #77 to callers reporting drivers using cell phones or otherwise driving distracted. In addition, the State Police have sent letters, where possible, to those who were reported.

The letters note that using a hand-held cell phone to talk or text while operating a motor vehicle is illegal in N.J., warn that the recipients’ vehicles have been spotted being driven dangerously or by a distracted motorist and inform them of the penalties if caught by police: For the first offense, a fine of up to $400; second offense, up to $600; third, up to $800 and license suspension of 90 days and three points on your license.

Also: “If you or the driver of this car are involved in a crash that injures or kills someone else, and it is determined that you were in violation of this statute, you will face criminal charges and a significant prison sentence.”

As of June 6 — 1,071 calls had been received and 632 letters mailed.

“Reaching the 1,000-call mark within two months indicates how successful the program has been so far,” a statement from Porrino’s office noted.

In addition to the calls, the statewide crackdown, funded in part by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration grants, has resulted in 15,292 summonses for cell-phone use/texting and another 7,003 for careless driving.

Participating law enforcement agencies also issued 8,284 summonses for speeding and 7,343 for for seat-belt law violations.

The #77 calls are answered by the State Police and 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.

This does not mean that those who spot distracted drivers should text while driving themselves. Those making a report should pull over to make the call, use a hands-free device or have a passenger make the call. Pedestrians, of course, may call #77 as well.

Only report what you see when it is safe to do so.

The Observer Staff