Senate Proposes to Increase Texting While Driving Penalties

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.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Primary, schmimary! Another law that will go largely unenforced, like the cell-phone ban, and actually stopping at stop signs. Until people start GETTING tickets, the threat of a ticket is a useless deterrent. I was behind some lady this morning who was clearly texting, weaving all over the place and sitting idle at green lights, then she started turning her head to the side, looking down, over and over, digging around the car…all while driving… finally she sat up and put on her reading glasses!! So she could READ her text messages!! UnREAL!

  2. I was driving on Rt. 280 the other day and I would say 40% of drivers were texting. Driving on Pleasant Valley way and I’d say that number went up to 80%. They can’t stop it. A far cry from college when herb’s g-friend got a ticket for brushing her hair at a light. There are already laws for this driving with distraction stuff, so lets create a law on top of law that’s already not enforced. As I said before herb is the only person that should be allowed to drive while on the phone or texting because I’m that good.

  3. I’ve gotten a ticket in another state for talking on my cell while driving. My father’s nursing home was calling, and I was literally in the middle of pulling, head on, into a parking place. I learned my lesson. I’ve almost been in a multi-car wreck on the Merritt when a girl, chatting away, pulled directly into traffic without looking. I’ve seen people literally bounce off of the median on rt.3, distracted on their phones while driving to work in the morning. The look on the young man’s face was one of total shock. YET, driving around town I would say, conservatively, 30% of my fellow drivers have a phone glued to their ear. Anecdotally, it seems to be mostly mommies in their SUVs (the same ones that haven’t mastered the art of the 4-way stop), and landscapers. Best corners for this are Lorraine and Park, and Bellevue and N. Mountain…

  4. The current fines would probably serve as a sufficient deterrent if they were frequently and vigorously enforced, which they are of course not. The current laws are almost universally ignored, even by the police themselves. So merely doubling the fines will do little more than to make our state legislators feel good that they “did something.”

    However, if it were up to me, the first offense would be $500, and the second offense would be a 6-month license suspension. Taking one’s hands off the steering wheel and eyes off the road to text while driving is such a blatant act of reckless irresponsibility that it warrants a very harsh penalty for the first offense.

  5. A close friend of mine and a texting teen were both killed in a head-to-head collision several years ago. She was an amazing, warm, irreplaceable person who had a 6-year-old daughter. Ask me how I feel about texting while driving.

  6. latebloomer offers the reason why this is a good idea. Higher fines with solid enforcement would be even better. But sadly, until most folks have a similar occurrence as latebloomer, they will continue to believe that it will never happen to them.

    But as car manufacturer put more “connectivity” into cars (“Check your facebook and twitter!!”) this will get worse, before it gets better, just like drinking and driving.

    I just bought a new car and it’s paired with my cell, so I can call or answer without taking my hands off the wheel, but guess what? It’s still distracting to talk and drive.

    Texting is just plain dumb…

  7. I’ve lost count over how many times this year that I’ve had to lean on the horn at various intersections – all because of some brain dead idiot being preoccupied with texting or viewing his or her cell phone

    LB: that is beyond heartbreaking

  8. Latebloomer, I am so sorry for your loss. What a senseless and heartwrenching tragedy.

    Dag, I am glad to hear you are weaning yourself! 🙂

    Prof, I agree that the car manufacturers are now just being stupid with all this connectivity nonsense. My boss constantly is on the phone, talking ‘to the car’ using the built-in bluetooth, and I have ridden with him enough times to witness the distraction level. In fact, he will sometimes be talking to Me, when he admits that oops, I just missed my exit! I think it takes superhuman levels of talent to manipulate a 2,500 pound weapon of mass destruction while chatting on the phone or anything else. For heaven’s sake, even fussing with the radio takes your eyes off the road. It only takes a fraction of a second for tragedy to happen.

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