At any given moment, 20% of New Jersey drivers are engaging in distracted driving behaviors — from cell phone use to fidgeting with the radio.  -  Photo:  Unsplash.com/Courtney Colew

At any given moment, 20% of New Jersey drivers are engaging in distracted driving behaviors — from cell phone use to fidgeting with the radio.

Photo: Unsplash.com/Courtney Colew

A new study from Rowan University finds that at least 500 crashes each year since 2010 on New Jersey roadways are due to distracted driving. That translates into 25% of all fatal crashes in the Garden State and the leading cause of roadway fatalities.

In 2019, for example, distracted driving caused 159 of the 524 fatal crashes in New Jersey that claimed 558 lives.

The report, which was commissioned by the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety, was timed for release during National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

A significant finding of the study: At any given time, one in five New Jersey drivers are not focused on the road. Rather, they are involved in an array of actions while behind the wheel — eating, fidgeting with the radio, grooming, reaching for objects, using the cell phone, and more.

The study also explored when and where distractions happen. The distraction rate on weekdays (22.9%) is slightly higher than on the weekends (22.2%). The distraction rate in peak hours is higher than the off-peak hours, while the signalized roads had a higher distraction rate than the unsignalized roads. Toll roads and non-toll roads have almost similar rates of distraction.

Regarding the overall percentage of distractions, although New Jersey has banned texting and handheld cellphone use, the category “handheld cellphone” was the leading type of distraction during both weekdays and weekends. The percentage attributed to “fidgeting/grooming” increased during the weekdays (5.5%) compared to the weekends (5.3%).

Also noteworthy, the rate of distraction was higher in the speed range of 25-35 mph compared to the other speed limits.

The comprehensive study even drills down to evaluate rates of distraction on select New Jersey roads. It was found that US 1 (25.8%) and Rt 18 (23.5%) had the highest rate of distractions while the minimum average rates of distraction are found in I-295 (22.1%), US-9 (21.2%), and Rt 55 (21.2%).

Experts say this new study helps document that distracted driving is more prevalent in the Garden State than previously known.

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