New Jersey Distracted Driving Laws
- Handheld ban for all drivers (Primary Law).
- Ban on all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for bus drivers (Primary Law).
- Ban on all cell phone (handheld and hands-free) for novice drivers (Primary Law).
- Ban on texting for all drivers (Primary Law).
New Jersey’s Texting While Driving Stand
In 2012, the state of New Jersey will consider six separate pieces of legislation designed to prevent distracted driving. Some of the bills are being viewed as what would be the toughest hands-free statute in the country.
The Senate passed a bill in 2011 that would have enhanced New Jersey’s existing distracted driving laws, but the House did not approve the bill. If passed, the bill would have imposed fines starting at $200 and rising as high as $600 depending on the nature of the infraction and the driver’s history of distracted driving.
The major provisions of New Jersey’s current distracted driver statute are People who make phone calls while driving must use a hands-free device; no one may send text messages or play video games while driving; school bus drivers are completely prohibited from using cell phones while in control of a school vehicle; and young drivers with learner’s permits or probationary licenses may not use any electronic devices while driving, even if the device is hands-free.
One of the bills currently before the legislature, Assemblyman Paul Moriarty’s A-2199, would expose drivers who violate a distracted driving statute to prosecution as reckless drivers. Traditionally, reckless driving has been considered a far more serious offense than distracted driving. The bill is more commonly known as Kulesh and Kubert’s Law in reference to three New Jersey citizens who were hit by distracted drivers.
A related proposal, A-1074, calls for distracted drivers who cause death or serious injury to another person to be prosecuted under vehicular homicide and assault by vehicle statutes. This bill marks a recent trend toward abolishing the current distinction, found in both the law and in popular perception, between drunk driving and distracted driving.
New Jersey has had some success in preventing distracted driving in the past. The governor recently signed a piece of legislation that prohibits bus drivers and train operators from using any form of the wireless device. The bill’s supporters claimed that the bill’s significance extended beyond its narrow reach, sending a message that those who send texts while driving are placing convenient communication above the safety of others.
The call for increased enforcement of distracted driving statutes has been on the rise since a New Jersey appellate court issued an opinion undermining New Jersey’s efforts to prevent distracted driving. In the opinion, the court held that drivers may not be penalized simply for placing their hands on their phones. The ruling overturned a decision issued by the Superior Court that would have allowed the police to cite drivers for distracted driving if the police observed them taking their hands off the wheel to dial a hands-free cell phone.
The New Jersey State Police attributed 24 fatalities and over 3,000 injuries to distracted driving between 2006 and 2009. Executive officials believe that a rise in distracted driving contributed to an 18 percent increase in vehicle collision fatalities in the first three months of 2011. New Jersey law enforcement officials reportedly write more than 10,000 tickets per month for violations of current distracted driving statutes. In the two years following the enactment of the current statute, distracted drivers received over 225,000 tickets for texting or calling while driving. There were nearly 2,000 fewer accidents related to cell phone use in the two years following the bill’s passage compared to the two years preceding it.