Bill to ban smoking while driving dies in New Jersey

| Thursday, January 19, 2006

In recent years, smokers have found it increasingly difficult to find a place to enjoy their habit – permissibly.

An effort in the New Jersey Legislature that would have taken away yet another spot to light up, however, failed to gain passage. The bill – A4306 – remained in committee when the two-year session ended Jan. 9.

The bill would have allowed law enforcement to rip a driver’s smokes right out of their mouth and force them to pay up to $250 for the pleasure. Drivers first would have to have been pulled over for another offense, such as speeding or running a red light.

Sponsored by Democratic Assembly members John McKeon of South Orange and Loretta Weinberg of Teaneck , the bill would have prohibited drivers from smoking cigars, pipes or cigarettes.

Regarded by some as a pipe dream, supporters said the ban is more about improving highway safety than protecting health because smoking is a distraction for drivers, much like cell phones.

New Jersey already is one of three states to restrict drivers from using hand-held cell phones.

Concerns from groups, such as the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, were enough to derail the effort.

Mitchell Sklar, the group’s executive director, said police departments may balk at enforcing such a law.

“In general, we’d rather not try to incrementally look at every single behavior and make those a violation,” he told The Associated Press.

Bills that didn’t pass both chambers when the session ended can be reintroduced in the new session, which started Jan. 10.

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