Stricter ban on cell phones sought in New Jersey

| Monday, October 23, 2006

As New Jersey state lawmakers make the final push to approve bills before the regular session ends the first of the year, one bill that still could draw consideration would make the state's ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving a little tougher. It also would boost revenue for the state by millions.

The bill would permit police to pull over drivers in the state solely for violating the cell phone restriction. 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 Senate unanimously approved the measure - S1099 - earlier this year. It has been forwarded to the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.

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. In 2008, California is slated to implement their own rule that will make violations a secondary 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 a primary enforcement rule could generate $10 million to $25 million a year in fines. Fines generally are split between the state and local governments.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn in January 2007. Any bill that doesn't gain approval in both chambers prior to the end of the session can be brought back for consideration next year.

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