TRENTON – If you’re caught using your phone while you’re driving, get ready to pay a bigger fine.
A new law will increase the penalty for using a hand-held electronic device while driving from $100 to at least $200 for a first offense, at least $400 for a second offense and at least $600 for subsequent offenses. The law also permits the court at its discretion to impose a 90-day driver’s license suspension for anyone convicted of the offense for a third or subsequent time. In addition, third and subsequent offenders will receive three motor vehicle penalty points.
“Cell phone use while driving, particularly texting, has become almost an epidemic these days, a very dangerous epidemic,” said Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer (D-Essex/Union). “It’s our hope that the increased fines and suspension imposed by this law will act as a further deterrent to these dangerous habits.”
“This legislation is one step in the right direction toward curbing the epidemic of distracted driving on New Jersey roads,” said Tracy Noble, spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Changing driver behavior takes time, and enacting stricter laws and penalties for distracted drivers will ensure that motorists are held accountable for their actions.”
The bill’s sponsors pointed to recent studies which 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.
The new law also requires the chief administrator of the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) to develop a public education program, which will receive funding from half of the fine money collected. The other half of the fine money will be split equally between the county and the municipality where the violation occurred.
The new fines will go into effect 13 months from now.
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