That urgent text message may become a little less urgent for drivers who send texts behind the wheel in New Jersey. N.J.’s Law and Public Safety Committee advanced a bill yesterday morning that would increase the penalties for drivers caught texting.
The current fine for texting while driving is $100 for the first offense, plus court fees, $200 for the second and $300 for the third. With the new bill, drivers would potentially face doubled fines.
On third and additional violations, drivers could also have their licenses suspended for 90 days, in addition to receiving three points.
NJ.com reported that the Senate approved a similar measure in 2010, while a texting-driving prevention bill is also currently in the Assembly.
Sen. Richard J. Codey, the bill’s sponsor, told The Record that watching other drivers break the law spurred the effort. He admitted that the current law was being ignored.
A Star Ledger editorial on NJ.com suggested that the proposed penalties aren’t harsh enough, citing some disturbing statistics:
The National Transportation Safety Board and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood already have called for the nationwide blanket phone ban. More than 3,000 people were killed in 2010 in crashes caused by distracted driving, including cell phone use. A driver using a phone is four times more likely to be in a serious crash than one who’s not, according to the NTSB, and while 5 percent of drivers are using handheld phones at any time on U.S. highways, nearly 25 percent of drivers admit texting or e-mailing at some point while driving.
The editorial board goes so far as to suggest that the penalties for texting while driving should be as stringent as those for a DWI.
It is currently a primary offense to text and drive in N.J., meaning that drivers can be ticketed for texting alone. N.J. is one of 38 states to have some kind of ban on the behavior.
What do you think, Baristaville? Is it time to increase the penalties, or is the state not going far enough? Tell us in our poll.