While driving, do you have the mental power to avoid checking the latest incoming text message or phone call?

State officials hope you have enough patience to at least wait until you reach a rest area or scenic overlook. That's why, starting Wednesday, New Jersey has designated 14 of these spots throughout the state as Safe Phone Zones.

"As part of a national effort, we are strongly encouraging drivers to pull off the roads to a safe location when they’re using their mobile devices," Department of Transportation Commissioner Richard Hammer said during a news conference at a scenic overlook site along Route 295 in Mercer County, one of the 14 zones.

NJDOT Commissioner Richard Hammer (left) and Attorney General Christopher Porrino announce launch of Safe Phone Zone program (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

Highway drivers will be notified of the upcoming safe zones with signage — the product of a public-private partnership with Geico.

"No driver ever thinks that inattention, even for a second, is going to cause an accident, let alone a fatality, but sadly that is all it takes," Hammer said.

According to Attorney General Christopher Porrino, who was also on site for the program's launch, New Jersey traffic fatalities jumped to 604 in 2016, from 562 in 2015.

"Teens were the largest age group reported as being distracted at the time of fatal crashes," Porrino said. "And the increase, according to the Division of Highway Traffic Safety, is directly attributable to the problem of traffic driving."

Porrino, who travels the Turnpike daily 65 miles each way, said he regularly sees what many motorists likely see on a daily basis — a driver drifting out of their lane because they're staring down at their smartphone.

"They might as well be watching a movie," he said.

In another effort to reduce distracted driving, the state repurposed its #77 system in April, calling on motorists to report others who aren't paying attention to the road.

As of Wednesday, nearly 1,300 calls were made to report distracted driving. About half of those calls resulted in letters sent to the registered owners of the reported vehicles.

NJDOT/GEICO Safe Phone Zone locations

  • West Milford Rest Area, Route 23 northbound
  • Bethlehem Rest Area, I-78 eastbound
  • Bethlehem Rest Area, I-78 westbound
  • Bridgewater Scenic Overlook, I-78 westbound
  • Knowlton Rest Area/Scenic Overlook, I-80 eastbound
  • Allamuchy Scenic Overlook, I-80 eastbound
  • Allamuchy Scenic Overlook, I-80 westbound
  • Allamuchy Rest Area/Picnic Area, I-80 eastbound
  • Allamuchy Rest Area/Picnic Area, I-80 westbound
  • Roxbury Rest Area (trucks only), I-80 westbound
  • Harding Rest Area (trucks only), I-287 northbound
  • Carneys Point Rest Area, I-295 northbound
  • Hamilton Scenic Overlook, I-295 northbound
  • Hamilton Scenic Overlook, I-295 southbound

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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