New Jersey lawmakers are considering legislation that would provide stiffer penalties for people who talk or text on their cell phones while driving – a move that would make New Jersey’s laws among the toughest in the country. (1)
New Jersey has had laws against the use of cell phones while driving in place since 2004. In late 2007, those laws were amended to make using cell phones without a hands-free device a primary offense. Prior to that, drivers could be cited for cell phone use only if they were pulled over for another violation. (2)
Last Monday, the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee in a 4-to-1 vote approved a bill increasing the penalties for cell phone use while driving. Under the proposed Law, penalties would be imposed on a graduating scale: the first offense would carry a fine of $200; a second offense within 10 years, $400; and the third offense, $600, plus suspension of a driver’s license for 90 days. (3) Current penalties carry a $100 fine.
Studies have shown that cell phone use has a significantly greater impact on drivers’ reflexes and reaction times than driving while intoxicated. “Car and Driver” magazine reported that it takes drivers sending text messages an extra 70 feet to stop, compared with an extra four feet for intoxicated drivers. An insurance company estimated that drivers who text while driving are nine times more likely to get into an accident than non-distracted drivers. (4)
Critics of the changes say the current penalties are sufficient. Supporters, however, say distracted drivers pose a risk not only to themselves but to those around them. While it has been reported that the number of traffic accidents attributed to cell phone use did decrease about 10 percent between 2006 and 2008, records show that police issued almost 10,000 citations a month since March 2008, clear evidence that current laws do not provide enough incentive for drivers to break this risky habit. (1)
The new legislation requires full Senate consideration before it can become law.