New Jersey nears tougher rules on lane use, driver distractions

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, December 14, 2012

Multiple bills of note got a boost this week at the New Jersey statehouse. They are intended to make travel safer for everyone on the state’s roadways.

The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee voted Thursday, Dec. 13, to advance a bill that’s supposed to improve safety on the state’s roadways through the threat of increased fines.

The Garden State already prohibits drivers from hanging out in the left lane. Motorists have limited left lane use while trucks and buses are forbidden from any travel in the far-left lane on highways with at least three lanes in each direction.

The bill would increase fines from a minimum of $50 to as much as $300 for motorists who fail to keep right except when overtaking another vehicle.

“A driver who is not obeying this law can be aggravating, but it’s also unsafe to obstruct traffic flow,” Assemblyman “Whip” Wilson, D-Camden/Gloucester, said in a released statement. “This bill is, quite simply, a public safety issue and common sense.”

Another provision specifies that $50 of each fine would be put into a fund to pay for signage reminding motorists entering the state to keep right excepting for passing. A fiscal note attached to the bill estimates that $91,700 would be deposited into the fund each year.

The bill’s next stop is the Assembly floor. If approved there, S530 would head back to the Senate for approval of changes before it could go to the governor.

The committee also approved a bill to increase penalties for cellphone use while driving.

The National Safety Council has reported that driver distractions, as well as alcohol and speeding, are leading factors in serious injury crashes. The council estimates that 28 percent of all traffic crashes – or at least 1.6 million crashes – each year are caused by drivers using cellphones. An additional 200,000 crashes annually involve drivers who are texting.

A “three strikes” policy would be adopted when dealing with distracted drivers. First-time offenders would face at least $200 fines – up from a maximum $100. Repeat offenses could result in a minimum of $400 fines, while subsequent offenses would cost at least $600.

Third-time offenders would also face the loss of driving privileges for 90 days. In addition, three points would be added to licenses.

Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union, said most people know it’s wrong but they continue to drive distracted. She noted that a year ago there were 85,000 people in the state charged with cellphone use while driving.

“The message is not getting through,” Quijano told lawmakers. “For some people, it’s the cost of doing business.”

The bill – A1080 – awaits further consideration on the Assembly floor. If approved there, it would move to the Senate.

One more bill to advance from the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee would benefit New Jersey truckers and motorists with diabetes. Specifically, A945 would allow affected drivers to voluntarily note the condition on their driver’s license.

The notation is intended to aid emergency personnel provide proper care if the person is unable to communicate.

To view other legislative activities of interest for New Jersey click here.

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