Penalities could be going up for motorists caught talking or texting on hand-held cell phones

Texting While Driving

Currently the fines for using your hand-held cell phone to talk, text or email while driving are $100 for each offense. State Senator Dick Codey says, "That's a slap on the wrist. (My) bill is a slap in the face and that's what they need because they're killing people every day on our highways and it's got to stop and it's got to stop now!"

The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee has approved a bill co-sponsored by Codey and State Senator Fred Madden that would address what they call the "epidemic" of hands-free violations by drivers engaging in dangerous, and potentially lethal, distractions while behind the wheel.

The legislation would put in place a graduated penalty structure for repeat offenders who violate the state's hands-free cell phone law more than once in a ten-year period. Under the bill, first-time offenders would have to pay a fine of $200. Drivers convicted of a second offense within 10 years of the first would have to pay a fine of $400, and drivers convicted of a third and subsequent offenses within 10 years of the first would have to pay a fine of $600 and face driver's license suspension of up to 90 days.

Third and subsequent offense could also lead to three points on your driver's license. The fines would go towards a public information program about the dangers of texting while driving.

Codey says, "Considering that studies have shown that texting behind the wheel is just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than getting behind the wheel drunk, an update of our hands-free cell phone law is long overdue. I hope that those groups that have traditionally advocated against drunk driving will also come out in force for this bill."

A 2010 'Car and Driver' magazine article showed how long it took to hit the brake when sober (.54 seconds), drunk (add four feet), reading an e-mail (add 36 feet) and sending a text message (add 70 feet). The Transport Research Laboratory study showed that reaction times were 35% worse for drivers sending a text message, as opposed to 12% worse for those at the legal limit of intoxication and 21% worse for those under the influence of cannabis. A study releaseded by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that text messaging took drivers' focus away for 4.6 seconds, and a Clemson University simulator study found that text messaging and using an iPod caused drivers to leave their lanes ten percent more often.

Codey explains, "It takes much longer to react to something on the road than if they were drunk out of their minds. It sounds crazy, but it's a fact."

"This bill would put serious teeth in New Jersey's hands-free cell phone law, and would make our efforts to combat distractions while driving the toughest in the nation," says Madden. "We cannot sit idly by while drivers put themselves and others at risk by engaging in dangerous behavior behind the wheel. This bill sends the message; put down the phone and drive, or face the consequences."

The measure now awaits scheduling for a vote in the full Senate. Codey says he'll work to encourage the Assembly to pass its version of the measure very soon. A spokesman for Governor Chris Christie says, "We will review and consider the bill if and when it receives full legislative approval in both houses."

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