Distracted driving can be as dangerous as being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Driver inattention has been a major contributing factor in nearly 750,000 car accidents in the state since 2009 and nationwide, 3,328 were killed in distracted driving crashes in 2012 alone. Cell phone use behind the wheel is particularly dangerous, but any kind of distracted driving is dangerous and may violate New Jersey traffic law.
Cell phone use is particularly targeted
New Jersey law prohibits the use of a wireless phone and any other hand-held communication device while operating a moving motor vehicle on a public road. “Use” includes, but is not limited to, talking or listening to another person, texting, or sending and receiving electronic messages. Although it is discouraged, drivers may use a hands-free device if it does not interfere with standard safety equipment.
A hand-held phone may be used for an emergency only and the driver must keep one hand on the wheel at all times. An “emergency” means that the driver has reason to fear for his life or safety, or believes that a criminal act may be perpetrated against himself or another person. It is only legal for the operator to use his device to report to appropriate authorities: a fire; traffic crash; serious road hazard; medical or hazardous material emergency; or another motorist who is driving in a reckless, careless or otherwise unsafe manner or who appears to be driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
First time violations will incur a fine of $200-$400. The penalty associated with a second offense within a 10-year period increases to $400-$600, and drivers who are caught a third time or more in a 10-year period face a fine of $600-$800. In addition, beginning with the third offense, there will be three (3) points assessed to the driver's record and there may be a 90-day driver license suspension as well.
Other distractions may also constitute violations
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office warns motorists against numerous other distracting activities while driving, including:
- Eating and drinking
- Talking to passengers
- Reading, including maps
- Using a navigation system
- Watching a video
- Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player
A few years ago, New Jersey’s legislature debated (but didn’t pass) a bill that would have banned other activities more broadly if they interfered with the “safe operation” of the vehicle. While specific activities aren’t prohibited, New Jersey criminal law already prohibits reckless driving, careless driving, and unsafe driving generally. If you are performing any non-driving related activities that impair your ability to drive safely, you may be subject to a traffic stop and/or prosecution under these statutes.
The New Jersey criminal defense lawyers at The Mark Law Firm can help if you’ve been ticketed or arrested for a cell phone violation or other traffic infraction and need an experienced attorney's assistance. Our Newark and Basking Ridge New Jersey attorneys are available to represent you in criminal and civil disputes, as well as personal injury lawsuits.
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