In the near future, New Jersey may have the toughest hands-free cell phone law in the nation. Just last month, on March 21, 2013, the New Jersey Legislature voted to increase penalties for texting and talking while driving in New Jersey. The bill had cleared the Senate in a unanimous vote last summer. The bill returned to the Senate for final approval.
Targeting texting drivers has become a national goal. According to the Ad Council, a texting driver is 23 times more likely to get into a crash than a non-texting driver. Driver inattention contributed to 178 fatalities in New Jersey during 2011. On the interstates, almost half of the traffic fatalities reported in New Jersey during 2011 were linked to driver distraction.
Effective March 1, 2008, New Jersey mandated the use of hands-free cell phone devise while driving. In 2012, more than 81,000 guilty pleas were entered for this offense. Under the current law, any driver caught violating the law is subject to a $100.00 fine. No points are added to the license.
Under the proposed legislation, the penalties are even stiffer – especially for repeat offenders. First time offenders would be subject to a minimum fine of $200.00 and a maximum fine of $400.00. Second time offenders would face a fine between $400.00 and $600.00. Third and subsequent offenders would be subject to a fine between $600.00 and $800.00. Additionally, for third and subsequent offenses, three points would be assigned to the violator’s driver’s license and the violator could face up to a 90-day license suspension. In addition to the fines and penalties, the bill directs, the bill directs the Motor Vehicle Commission to create an educational program to alert the public of the dangers of talking and texting while driving.