The New Jersey Department of Transportation announced a public-private partnership under which auto insurer GEICO will provide a statewide sponsorship to rebrand rest areas and scenic overlooks as "Safe Phone Zones" where motorists can stop and use their mobile devices out of the flow of traffic.
"As the summer season begins, with more drivers headed out on the roads, this sponsorship program is aimed at curbing distracted driving on New Jersey's highways,"
the announcement said.
"We have an obligation to raise awareness about distracted driving as a real safety hazard on our roads," said NJDOT Commissioner Richard Hammer. "Programs such as this partnership with GEICO help get the message out and remind every driver who gets behind the wheel they must individually share in that responsibility too."
It said this is part of a national effort to encourage drivers to pull into a safe location to use their mobile phones for calling, texting and accessing mobile apps.
Under the partnership, New Jersey has designated 14 rest areas and scenic overlooks as Safe Phone Zones.
The Department said that "new, informative signs sponsored by GEICO have been installed along the highways leading to these facilities. Additional onsite signage discourages distracted driving and informs visitors about the sponsorship. It is another reminder for motorists to use their cell phones and other communication devices in a safe location.
The state's Office of the Attorney General recently announced that traffic fatalities in New Jersey rose from 562 in 2015 to 604 in 2016, for an average of 12 deaths a week. Division of Highway Traffic Safety officials have said the increase is in part because of distracted driving, such as cell phone use behind the wheel.
"By working together, we are making New Jersey's roads safer. The Safe Phone Zones are yet another tool to combat distracted driving," said Attorney General Christopher Porrino. "Traffic fatalities continue to rise and we know that distracted driving accounts for part of this increase. If you don't have hands–free technology and you want to answer the phone, send a text message or an email, these safe zones are the places to do it."
Tim Lamere, GEICO assistant vice president of underwriting for New Jersey and New England, said: "Traffic fatalities in New Jersey took a startling jump last year, making the need to eliminate distracted driving more urgent. GEICO is proud to partner with the New Jersey Department of Transportation to provide these Safe Phone Zones throughout the state where drivers can safely pull off to take a break to check their texts, apps and emails."
GEICO said it provides similar support in five other states – New York, Virginia, Arizona, Illinois and Florida.
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