U Drive. U Text. U Pay. Unless you’re a cop
It's illegal to use a handheld cell phone while you're driving in New Jersey. But did you know the law that can cost you hundreds of dollars and put points on your license does not apply to police officers? More on that in a moment.
The national crackdown on handheld cell phones while driving began Sunday and New Jersey is heavily in the game. Funded by special grants, law enforcement across the state is looking for people texting while driving and other handheld cell violations for the next three weeks. Division of Highway Traffic Safety reports new tactics will be included this year. While they won't give away all their strategies, it is said that even spotters on overpasses will be used. I imagine this means a police officer positioned with binoculars to peer into people's cars then radio ahead to officers farther down the highway to pull them over. In taking calls about this last week, one listener even said that in past campaigns he knew of officers posing as lineman positioned halfway up phone poles to have the vantage point of looking in through windshields.
A first offense will be slammed with a fine between $200 to $400. That can increase to $800 and points on your license. Some feel this is all about safety. Others feel it's a fundraiser. They argue a stronger visible police presence would do more to get everyone to put down their phones rather than hiding on overpasses and nabbing just one person at a time. Multiply that one person at a time by the hundreds of dollars gained and you can see their point.
Back to the exemption. It's true. Police officers on duty are immune from the very law for which they pull people over. When the ban on handheld cell phones became law, it included some sneaky language that few know about.
The law is motor vehicle code 39 § 4-97.2. The exact wording of the passage is as follows:
"The prohibitions set forth in this act shall not be applicable to any of the following persons while in the actual performance of their official duties: a law enforcement officer; a member of a paid, part-paid, or volunteer fire department or company; or an operator of an authorized emergency vehicle."
Now you can argue that the way the law is written means police officers can only use their handheld cell phones if it is for official business. Here in the real world we know there's little chance a police officer texting his girlfriend while driving or using a handheld cell to call his wife on the road is ever going to see a traffic ticket.
Don't take this out on the police. They did not write this law. Also, just because they can get away with it doesn't mean all of them take advantage of the loophole. I have a world of respect for the difficult task cops face each day. Yet it's hard to respect a law that applies only to us but not to the people enforcing it. It's kind of like the George Orwell book "Animal Farm", isn't it? Just something to think about while that officer is writing you a $400 ticket this month.
Jeff Deminski can be heard with Bill Doyle on New Jersey 101.5, every weekday, from 2 to 7 p.m. Listen live online here at NJ1015.com or on the NJ1015 app. Follow Jeff on Twitter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed here are solely those of Jeff Deminski.
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