How many times do you stop at your local coffee shop on your way to work to pick up your favorite drink? While you may enjoy your favorite caffeinated beverage on your way to work, in the very near future this could be the reason you are pulled over and handed a ticket by your local police officer.

A bill sponsored by Assemblymen John S. Wisniewski and Nicholas Chiaravalloti designed to prohibit the operator of a motor vehicle from engaging in distracted driving. However, early opponents of the bill have already cited concerns that this legislation might go too far and cover such minor activities such as sipping on your latte.

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In 2003, the legislature enacted a bill that made it unlawful for New Jersey drivers to operate their vehicle while using their cell phone. However, this law allowed drivers to speak on their phone with the use of a hands-free device.  On July 1st, 2014 the New Jersey legislature increased the fines for drivers who were caught driving and talking on their cell phone or drivers who were texting on their cell phones.  The fines were set at

  • For a first offense, not less than $200 or more than $400;
  • For a second offense, not less than $400 or more than $600; and
  • For a third or subsequent offense, not less than $600 or more than $800.

In addition to these monetary fines, a driver could be assessed three points on their New Jersey Driver’s license beginning with their third offense. A driver who was caught driving and texting or talking on their phone could also face a 90-day driver license suspension.  Under the currently enacted law, there is a permissive inference that holding a cell-phone to your ear means that you are talking on the phone in violation of the New Jersey cell phone law.

Distracted Driving an Issue in New Jersey

The new bill as proposed was designed to address the noted increasing problem of distracted drivers on New Jersey roads, and would be designed to strengthen existing laws that prohibit operating a motor vehicle while using a cellphone or other hand-held device.  This bill was introduced over seven months ago but has yet to be sent to committees for consideration.

Opponents of the bill are concerned with the far-reaching language. The new legislation is broader and would bar “any activity unrelated to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of the vehicle.” Notably, these opponents have been drawn to such minor daily activities such as drinking that would fall under the umbrella of the new bill and potentially subject New Jersey drivers to a hefty penalty.  This is not the first time that such broad legislation has been criticized. In 2006,  a bill with almost identical language as the currently proposed bill would allow a New Jersey police officer to stop anyone from “engaging in any activity not related to the operation of the vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of the vehicle.” This bill was also proposed by Assemblyman John Wisniewski, and was passed by the Assembly Transportation Committee by a vote of 12-0.  However, this law was not enacted at the time partially because of the over broad language.

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However, the newly introduced bill has gained some attention in recent months because of the growing problem of distracted drivers. In 2013, more than 400,000 people suffered injuries related to distracted driving and 3,500 people died nationally. The Transportation Association said that number has only grown over the years. In its newest form, the bill would allow a police officer to pull a person over for engaging in any activity that was not driving, however, Assemblyman Wisniewski has stated that it is not the intent of the bill to stop drivers from taking a sip of their morning coffee or changing the radio station.

Have You Been Ticketed for Distracted Driving? Call Our Atlantic City Defense Attorneys Today

If you have received a ticket for texting while driving you might be facing a fine of up to $800 and could even have your license suspended. We offer free and confidential initial consultations with an Atlantic City criminal defense lawyer. If you are seeking aggressive and strategic criminal defense representation, call us at (609) 616-4956.