New Jersey lawmakers hope to curb one out of every four traffic crashes in the state.
On its way to the governor’s desk is a bill to help reduce driver distractions on roadways. A separate bill in the Garden State would boost penalties for texting while driving.
The National Safety Council reports that driver distractions, as well as alcohol and speeding, are leading factors in serious injury crashes. The council estimates that 28 percent of all traffic crashes – or at least 1.6 million crashes – each year are caused by drivers using cellphones. An additional 200,000 crashes annually involve drivers who are texting.
New Jersey lawmakers voted to advance to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk a bill that covers punishment for texting and cellphone use while driving.
The Senate voted unanimously to advance a bill to the governor to make easier prosecution for vehicular homicide or assault by vehicle against someone who is found in violation of the state’s hands-free cellphone law. Assembly lawmakers already approved it by unanimous consent.
If A1074 becomes law, proof that someone was in violation of the ban could be used to show the person was driving recklessly. As a result, offenders could face up to 10 years in prison rather than up to 18 months under the current rule.
Judges could also suspend a driver’s license for 90 days for three or more convictions.
Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, D-Essex/Union, said a message needs to be sent to distracted drivers.
“Any driver willing to play Russian roulette with other people’s lives should face the stiffest penalties possible,” Coutinho said in a statement. “Hopefully this bill will send a clear signal to drivers that unless they take personal responsibility, they will be facing much harsher consequences if a tragedy occurs.”
The Senate voted unanimously to advance a separate bill to the Assembly to put in place a “three strikes” policy when dealing with distracted drivers. First-time offenders would face $200 fines – up from $100. Repeat offenses could result in $400 fines, while subsequent offenses would cost $600.
Third-time offenders would also face the loss of driving privileges for 90 days. In addition, three points would be added to licenses.
“New Jersey has appropriately tough laws on the books regarding drinking while driving,” Sen. Richard Codey, D-Essex, stated. “But penalties for texting while driving are a mere slap on the wrist, so now it is time for a slap in the face.”
The bill – S69 – has moved to the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.
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