Stricter ban on cell phones advances in New Jersey

| Thursday, December 08, 2005

New Jersey , one of three states with a statewide ban on handheld cell phone use while driving, is one step closer to making their rule a little tougher – and likely boosting revenue by millions.

At the urging of acting Gov. Richard Codey, the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee unanimously endorsed a measure Thursday, Nov. 30, to permit police to pull over drivers solely for violating the ban. Currently, drivers can only be cited for using a handheld phone when they are stopped for another offense, such as speeding.

The bill’s next stop is the full Senate, where it is expected to pass. S1874 would then move to the state’s Assembly for further consideration.

Existing New Jersey law fines drivers between $100 and $250 for using their cell phones while driving. The rule limits drivers to the use of “hands-free” devices, but still allows drivers to dial, answer and turn on their cell phones.

Currently, New York and Connecticut make driving while holding a phone a primary offense.

As a secondary offense, New Jersey ’ law led to 11,400 citations being issued during a one-year period ending Aug. 31.

In comparison, New York ’s law resulted in 100,250 violations in the first 15 months of enforcement.

Sen. Joseph Palaia, R-Monmouth, a sponsor of the New Jersey bill, said making using a hand-held cell phone a primary offense could generate $10 million to $25 million a year in fines. Fines generally are split between the state and local governments.

Codey’s push to strengthen New Jersey ’s cell phone restriction comes as studies have shown that hands-free and hand-held phones are equally distracting.

The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety released a study this summer that indicated drivers using phones were four times as likely to be in crashes serious enough to injure themselves.

Researchers found that the increased crash risk was consistent for those using either hand-held or hands-free phones.

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