On Tuesday, the New Jersey State Assembly Transportation Committee advanced a bill, introduced by Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), which would expand what is considered “distracted driving” in New Jersey to include more than cell phone use.
The bill, which does not enumerate specific activities that are prohibited behind the wheel, if enacted into law will provide police with the discretion to pull over and ticket drivers who engage “in any activity unrelated to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of the vehicle on a public road or highway.” Consequently, drivers who opt to smoke, eat, put on makeup, or engage in other activities deemed distracting while driving will risk getting ticketed.
However, critics of the bill argue that its language may be too broad, as playing with the radio or looking at a map or GPS for directions could be considered “distracted driving” as well as more clearly unacceptable forms of distraction behind the wheel.
The bill has yet to be introduced in the state Senate, but if passed, drivers ticketed for distracted driving under the law’s reach will face hefty fines. Proposed fines include a fine of between $200 and $400 for a first offense, $400 to $600 for a second offense, and $600 to $800 for a third or subsequent offense. As a moving violation, these offenses would carry a minimum of 2 points.
Regardless of whether the bill to broaden the grounds for distracted driving tickets becomes law, New Jersey drivers will still face increased penalties for talking or texting on a hand-held cell phone while driving in the coming year. A bill signed by Governor Chris Christie in June 2013, and which will take effect in July 2014, will greatly increase the fines associated with cell phone use in the car. The fines are to be at least doubled for a first-time offense, from the currently imposed fine of $100 to a fine of at least $200 and up to $400. A second offense will carry with it a minimum fine of $400 and a maximum fine of $600. For third and subsequent offenses, drivers will face a fine of at least $600 and up to $800. In addition, judges will be able to impose three motor vehicle points and suspend a driver’s license for 90 days for drivers convicted of third or subsequent offenses.
(Sources: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2013/11/26/n-j-assemblyman-seeks-to-broaden-definition-of-distracted-driving/; http://njtoday.net/2013/06/27/nj-increases-penalties-for-using-mobile-phones-while-driving/; http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news/local&id=9153894)