TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Deputy Speaker John S. Wisniewski that would penalize distracted driving and enhance the state’s existing hands-free cell phone law was released Monday from the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee.
“Year after year reports are issued that describe the dangers of driving distracted, whether it’s texting while driving or using other handheld devices,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) the transportation panel’s chair. “Yet, horrific car accidents with distracted driving as the root cause continue to occur on New Jersey roadways. That has to change.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) distracted driving micro-website, distracted driving can be classified as any activity that takes a driver’s hands off the wheel, their eyes off the road or their mind off the task of driving. The site reports a nine percent one-year increase in the number of crashes with distracted driving as the root cause; 421,000 in 2012, compared to 387,000 in 2011.
Under Wisniewski’s bill (A-4461) motorists operating a vehicle on New Jersey’s roadways would be prohibited from engaging in any activity not related to the safe operation of the vehicle. Violators would face fines between $200 to $400 for a first offense; $400 to $600 for a second offense; and $600 to $800 for a third or subsequent offense. A third or subsequent offense could also result in a 90 day driver’s license suspension and the assignment of motor vehicle points, at the discretion of the courts. In all instances, the ticketing officer would be required to detail the specific nature of the distracted driving on the summons.
The measure also would strengthen the state’s existing hand-held cell phone ban, allowing law enforcement to assume that the cell phone is in use and that the user is violating the law if the cellphone is being held near the motorist’s head or ear.
“At the end of the day, this legislation is about one thing: safety,” said Wisniewski. “At highway speeds, a car accident can happen in the space of a few seconds. Making someone think twice before reaching for their cellphone or watching a video while driving could be all that separates a safe trip from one that ends in an accident. And that’s an inconvenience that, frankly, we should all be able to live with.”
The measure now heads to the Assembly Speaker, who decides if and when to post it for a floor vote.
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