The Cassidy Law Firm Blog

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Distracted Driving in the Garden State: What You Need to Know

A momentary lapse of concentration can lead to a lifetime of problems. Distracted driving is a major cause of traffic accidents. Taking your eye off the road for even a few moments can cause your car to drift out of the lane and into a vehicle in an adjacent or oncoming one. The New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety claims that almost 800,000 accidents from 2012 to 2016 were the result of distracted driving. This is why New Jersey has started cracking down on distracted driving, focusing specifically on the use of handheld devices while operating a motor vehicle. You need to be aware of what constitutes distracted driving so you can avoid getting a costly fine and, more importantly, not get involved in a collision that can harm your life or that of another person.

What constitutes distracted driving?

Distracted driving is a very large category of activities that involve losing focus on your driving for only a few moments leading to traffic crashes. This distraction can cause your car to drift, reduce your reaction time to pedestrians and other vehicles, and result in rapid but unnoticed acceleration.

The most common form of distracted driving involves the use of cell phones. If you are holding the phone, dialing a number, or texting, then your focus is on this activity and not your driving. Many newer vehicles feature infotainment systems that allow you to connect your phones through Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. This allows you to make hands-free calls and texts using vocal commands. However, while it may help reduce the distraction, it is not a 100% cure. This why New Jersey recommends pulling off the road if you absolutely need to make a call or respond to a text.

There are other things that can distract you from your driving. Adjusting your vehicle’s radio or infotainment system to search for another song or station. Drinking or eating while driving. Reading directions or using a navigation system to guide you by map instead of voice commands. Even getting involved in conversations with other passengers can distract you from the critical tasks involved in operating a motor vehicle. Nevertheless, the greatest distraction is the use of handheld devices for calls or texts.

How does New Jersey deal with distracted driving?

Due to the large number of accidents, the Garden State has made it illegal to use a handheld cell phone or other device while driving. The penalties are among the steepest for any moving vehicle infraction in the State. First-time offenders face at least a $200 fine. You face at least a $400 fine for a second offense. For every subsequent offense, the fine starts at $600 and includes 3 points on your driver’s license and a possible 90-day suspension of your license as well. If you get 12 points or more on your license, it will be automatically suspended. The punishment is even harsher if you are operating a public transportation vehicle when you are pulled over for using a handheld device. The law considers this a disorderly person's offense. As such, drivers who use a handheld device in these situations face a $1,000 fine and up to six months of incarceration.

There is one exception to the rule. If you are having an emergency and your vehicle does not have a hands-free phone system, you can use your handheld device to make an emergency call as long as you maintain one hand on the steering wheel at all times. Still, if you are in this situation, you should pull over to the side of the road if possible.

What happens if I am involved in an accident caused by distracted driving?

Distracted driving is a major cause of traffic collisions. If you or the other driver can be shown to have been engaged in conduct constituting distracted driving at the time of the accident, then this can be used to prove fault in the accident. In most cases, this will not affect the amounts you, your passengers, and the other driver receive from your respective insurance companies. However, if the personal injuries sustained by the parties are enough to meet New Jersey’s serious injury threshold, then the distracted driver may be held personally liable. In New Jersey, serious injury is defined as, “bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.” Things like dismemberment, displaced fractures, and loss of a pregnancy fall within this definition.

If you are involved in a traffic accident or receive a ticket for distracted driving, call our firm today. Distracted driving incidents can have a major impact on your life, whether you are ticketed for the offense or involved in an accident caused by it. The experienced traffic attorneys at The Cassidy Law Firm will help with defending you and, if you are involved in an accident, getting you the compensation you deserve for your injuries.

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