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