New Jersey Senate OKs stricter ban on cell phones

| 12/13/2005

New Jersey, one of three states with a statewide ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving, is halfway through the legislative process of making their rule a little tougher – and boosting revenue by millions.

At the urging of acting Gov. Richard Codey, the Senate unanimously endorsed a measure Thursday, Dec. 8, to permit police to pull over drivers solely for violating the ban. Currently, drivers can only be cited for using a hand-held phone when they are stopped for another offense, such as speeding.

“Cell phones have become a sign of the times in today’s fast-paced world …” Codey said in a written statement. “But one thing is for sure: if you’re using one while driving you’re more likely to get into an accident. They pose a real threat to both the driver and other passing motorists – a threat that today we are one step closer to eliminating.”

The bill’s next stop is the Assembly. If approved, S2852 would head to Codey’s office for his signature.

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’s law led to 11,400 citations being issued during the first 12 months the current ban was enforced.

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.

AAA New Jersey applauds the Legislature’s efforts to improve driver safety, but Pam Fischer, a spokeswoman for the auto association, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the bill doesn’t bar many other driver distractions.

With that in mind, the Assembly Transportation Committee unanimously approved a bill Thursday that would outlaw various driving distractions.

In addition to permitting police to pull over drivers solely for violating the hand-held cell phone rule, it would prohibit any other action that distracts from driving.

Those distractions are not listed in the bill – A4461 – but are presumed to include actions such as eating, smoking, reading or applying cosmetics.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, said while no list was included, it would give police flexibility in determining distractions.

Violators engaging in distracting activity would face at least a $100 fine.