The Cassidy Law Firm Blog

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Coffee to Go May Be a No-No for New Jersey Drivers

Is distracted driving illegal in New Jersey?

Texting while driving has been getting plenty of attention in the media and for good reason: drivers distracted by cell phones often cause accidents in New Jersey. Of course, drivers can also become distracted while tuning the radio, or talking to other passengers. Now, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would restrict drivers from a number of other distractions including eating, drinking beverages such as coffee, reading or using electronic devices. This measure would add to state laws that already ban the use of hand-held cell phones and texting while driving.

The proposed bill, introduced by New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) and Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson) calls for fines and possible license suspension for repeat offenders. A first offense would lead to a fine ranging from $200 to $400, for a second offense the penalty goes up to between $400 and $600. Three or more mean a fine of $600 to $800 and the possibility of a 90-day license suspension.

"The issue is that we need to try, in every way, to discourage distracted driving, it's dangerous," Wisniewski said. "Education and enforcement can change the attitudes of people."

The law is said to be modeled on a similar ban put-in-place in Maine, but the New Jersey proposal is more restrictive and imposes harsher penalties. While the overarching goal of the distracted driving measure is to discourage drivers from multitasking, the question remains as to how the law would be enforced, particularly how police officers will determine whether a driver was engaging in these distracting activities.

Those in favor of the bill liken it to seat belt laws that have been successful in changing the behavior of drivers. Ms. Wisniewski noted that those laws were initially a secondary offense that was only charged if a driver was stopped for another offense. While driving without a seat belt is now a primary offense, she believes the distracted driving law can also be phased-in gradually.

"Studies talk about how distracted driving is the number one cause of accidents," Wisniewski said. "We ought to be able stop it."

Whether or not the measure will be passed by the legislature and signed into law remains to be seen. In the meantime, a distracted driver who causes an accident that leads to injury or death can still face a personal injury lawsuit.

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