Hard to Measure Just How Bad Distracted Driving is in NJ
NORTH PLAINFIELD — Police warned the public ahead of time about their planned distracted-driving crackdown, and still they managed to pull over 31 motorists in a span of just two hours in this borough alone.
Distracted driving is actually a very "undermeasured" problem, according to Ken Kolosh, who manages the National Safety Council's statistics group.
"There is no blood-alcohol test for distracted driving," Kolosh said, which might help to explain New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety numbers recently obtained by Townsquare Media showing distracted driving as the main cause in only a little bit more than 1 percent of all fatal crashes during 2013 and 2014.
Kolosh says a driver's brain is not only distracted for the length of time taken to complete a non-driving task. The brain remains otherwise occupied for 25 to 30 seconds, as it continues to fixate on that task.
A more concrete assessment of drivers might be on the way. Earlier this month, ABC News reported a New York state legislator is introducing a measure to legalize "textalyzer" technology, which would authorize police to see if a motorist was using his or her phone at the time of a crash, without permitting access to contacts, photos and other private data. Drivers would be subject to the law under implied consent to field testing, though Kolosh, citing inherent privacy concerns, was hesitant to concur that such a change could happen quickly.
The legislation comes as a boost in the economy, causing lower gas prices and more people on the roads, inadvertently contributed to an 8 percent increase in fatal motor vehicle crashes across the United States in 2015, according to Kolosh. He said that year-over-year jump was the largest in America in 50 years, also citing an observational study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that found over the last five years, an ever-larger percentage of motorists are either texting or performing other tasks behind the wheel.
The NSC's own "Injury Facts" report for 2016 puts distracted driving third among causes for crash-related fatalities, at 26 percent. And it's not just cell phones; increased safety technology that now comes standard with many vehicles is partly to blame.
"Technology is not a good or a bad thing when it comes to driving," Kolosh said. "It's our dashboards that increasingly have touch screens, that force your eyes off the road just to interact with the systems."
The silver lining for New Jerseyans is that despite the nationwide spike in fatal crashes in 2015, NSC statistics showed such incidents in New Jersey actually decreased by 2 percent in 2015.
"New Jersey has a handheld and a texting ban for all drivers," Kolosh said. "You also have very good teen driving laws on the books, you have relatively low speed limits."
The Garden State was one of only 13 states which had either no change or a drop in fatalities last year, according to the NSC report.