New Jersey, other states target unsafe motorists

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 5/21/2013

A New Jersey bill on its way to the governor’s desk puts in place a “three strikes” policy when dealing with distracted drivers. Other states also act to boost punishments.

New Jersey law already allows police to pull over drivers for typing, reading or sending text messages while at the wheel. It also allows primary enforcement of the state’s ban on using any cellphone that is not a hands-free device.

In place since 2004, the law was changed to allow for primary enforcement in 2008. Violators face $100 fines.

The Senate voted unanimously to approve a bill that would stiffen penalties for drivers who get caught talking on a handheld device or texting while driving. The vote cleared the way for S69 to move to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk. Assembly lawmakers already approved it with changes on a 72-2 vote.

“This legislation is intended to save lives and make people think twice before putting themselves and others at risk,” Sen. Fred Madden, D-Gloucester, said in a news release.

First-time offenders would face fines between $200 and $400 – up from $100. Repeat offenses could result in $600 fines, while subsequent offenses could cost as much as $800.

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

State lawmakers elsewhere also acted to boost enforcement and punishment of existing rules on distracted driving.

In Virginia, talking on a handheld device already is prohibited while driving. However, law enforcement can cite offenders only after pulling them over for some other offense – like speeding.

Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law a bill to bump up enforcement to a primary offense, meaning drivers could be cited solely for violating the rule. It takes effect July 1.

Previously HB1907, the new law increases punishment for first-time offenders from $20 to $125. Subsequent violations could result in $250 fines. Anyone convicted of reckless driving while texting would also face a mandatory minimum $250 fine.

Across the state line in Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law a nearly identical bill. Punishment for offenders would increase from $40 to as much as $500. In addition, HB753 includes the possibility of points against the driver’s license.

The rule change kicks in Oct. 1.

Down the coast in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign into law a bill to make texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning drivers could only be cited if they were pulled over for another reason, such as speeding. Texting violators would face $30 fines.

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