New Jersey Senate OKs stricter ban on cell phones

| 3/8/2006

Legislators in New Jersey, which is one of only three states with a statewide ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving, are considering making the rule a little tougher – and boosting revenue by millions.

The Senate unanimously endorsed a measure Feb. 27 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, …” Senate President Richard Codey, D-West Orange, said in a written statement. “But there’s a time and a place for everything. Drivers already have enough distractions. When you’re driving down the (New Jersey) Turnpike at 65 mph, adding a cell phone to the mix is not only inappropriate, it’s downright dangerous.”

The bill’s next stop is the Assembly. If approved, the measure – S1099 – would head to Gov. John Corzine.

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.