Police Department Launches Distracted Driving Campaign
By Anne Levin
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,142 people died in the United States due to distracted driving in 2020. The statistics have only gotten more troubling as time has gone on. Princeton is no exception.
April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the Princeton Police Department is taking the opportunity to raise awareness about the dangers of eating, drinking, fiddling with entertainment or navigation systems, talking on hand-held phones, or — worst of all — texting, while behind the wheel. Anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road, even for a few seconds, is being addressed this month and next.
“It’s a very rapidly growing concern, especially with more people returning to the roads since COVID,” said Sgt. Thomas Murray, of the department’s traffic safety bureau. “Accident report data continues to show that people are not paying attention. And they are openly admitting it.”
Officers on foot and in cars are on alert not only for drivers, but for people texting while walking, or bicycling in an unsafe manner. “We like to educate as much, if not more, than enforce,” said Murray. “We are making an effort to be pro-active in educating people, but we’ll be a little more pro-active in issuing summonses for blatant violations.”
Approximately 80 percent of all of the crash investigation reports handled by the Princeton Police department on an annual basis identify “driver inattention” or some other type of unsafe driving behavior, such as speeding and following too closely, as contributing to crashes. Relying on rear bumper sensors when backing up isn’t always enough. And there has been a dramatic increase in people confusing the brake pedal with the accelerator.
“When we get the volume during peak times, all it takes is a split second of turning your eyes off the road,” Murray said. “People have a lot on their mind these days, and it just isn’t always compartmentalized when they get behind the wheel. Hopefully, some education will help with that.”
The police department has identified documented and potential problem areas around town on which to focus their efforts. In the central business district, they will be on foot, handing out information cards to walkers and bicyclists who might have their eyes on their phones instead of in front of them.
“We’re looking at any area with a high amount of congestion,” Murray said. “We have a lot of rear-ending and side-swiping accidents on Bayard Lane, where people are changing lanes. There is also a lot on Nassau Street, North Harrison and South Harrison streets.”
According to a press release from the police department, sending or reading a text takes eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that is like driving the length of an entire football field with eyes closed.
“We’re all creatures of habit,” Murray said. “If you text or talk or eat while driving and get away with it, you think, ‘Okay, it’s fine.’ But when you seriously injure someone or yourself, it becomes very real.”