TRENTON – An Assembly panel approved a measure that would increase penalties for using cell phones while driving on Monday.
The bill (A-3154), released unanimously by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, would increase fines for motorists who get caught more than once while driving and talking on a hand-held device or texting.
Under current law, the fine for using a hand-held electronic device while driving is $100. This bill would increase the fine for a first offense to $200; the fine for a second offense to $250-400 a second offense; and to $500-600 for third or subsequent offenses. The bill would also impose a 60-90 day driver’s license suspension for persons convicted of the offense for a third or subsequent time, at the court’s discretion, as well as a three motor vehicle penalty points.
However, under the bill, if a person is convicted of a second offense more than 10 years after the first offense they would be treated as a first time offender for sentencing purposes. Similarly, a person convicted of a third offense would be treated as a second-time offender for sentencing purposes if the third offense occurs more than ten years after the second offense.
The bill would go into effect on the first day of the 13th month following enactment.
A 2009 survey by AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety found that two out of three respondents admitted to talking on their cell phones while driving and one out of five admitted to reading or sending text messages while driving.
Recent studies have shown that texting while driving is riskier than driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. One study by the Transport Research Laboratory found that the reaction time of motorists who were texting dramatically decreased by 35 percent, much worse than those who drank alcohol at the legal limit (12 percent slower) or those who had used marijuana (21 percent slower).
In addition, the research found that drivers who sent or read text messages were more prone to drift out of their lane, with steering control by texters 91 percent poorer than that of drivers devoting their full concentration to the road.
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