New Jersey fails to approve stricter ban on cell phones

| Friday, January 20, 2006

New Jersey is one of three states with a statewide ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving.

An effort in the New Jersey Legislature to make the state’s cell phone rule stricter – and boost revenue by millions – however, failed to gain passage in the two-year legislative session that wrapped up Jan. 9.

At the urging of acting Gov. Richard Codey, the state’s Senate previously endorsed a measure – S2852 – 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.

But Assembly lawmakers were unable to reach agreement on whether to broaden the bill to include any other action that distracts from driving. The indecision prevented lawmakers from sending the bill to Codey before the session ended.

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 hand-held cell phone use a primary offense could generate $10 million to $25 million a year in fines. Fines generally are split between the state and local governments.

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

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