New state law raises penalty for ‘distracted driving’

“Distracted driving” has become such a serious issue that law enforcement and the state Attorney General are calling attention to its hazards.
Distracted driving includes talking or texting on a cell phone, tuning a radio or CD player, applying makeup, talking to other passengers, tending to children or pets, eating, and drinking. But cell phones are the main culprit these days. New Jersey law bans the use of a cell phone – handheld or hands free – while driving. That hasn’t stopped motorists from using them.
So as of March 21, a new law enacted by the state legislature took effect to “give New Jersey the toughest hands-free cell phone law in the nation,” according to the website
Currently the penalty for distracted driving is $130. Police surveyed for this story said that is too low. The new law increases the range of penalties for the first offense from $200 to $400, second offense from $400 to $600, and a third or subsequent offense to as much as $800 and three points on your license, along with the possibility of a 90-day suspension.

“No text is worth dying for.” – AT&T
In July 2012, New Jersey instituted a law enabling prosecution of cell phone users for reckless driving that results in “serious harm or death,” with penalties including prison time and fines up to $150,000.
According to, nearly 500,000 young adults are injured every year because of distracted driving.

Heavily enforced

In both Guttenberg and North Bergen, police say distracted driving is heavily enforced, with a $130 fine if someone is caught. Captain Joel Magenheimer of Guttenberg Police believes that the fine “is cheap,” he said. In the last six months 17 drivers have been stopped in Guttenberg for distracted driving.
“Taking your eyes off the road could cause somebody injury or even death,” said Magenheimer. “People need to consider all the consequences and the life-long impact of [distracted driving].”
As a deterrent for those eager to use their cell phones while driving, Magenheimer recommends that cell phone carriers find a way to disable phones when drivers enter their vehicles.
Although North Bergen Police say they are also vigilant in the pursuit of distracted drivers, Lt. Robert Farley from the North Bergen Traffic Division was unable to give recent statistics about how many distracted drivers have been stopped.
Farley says he is hopeful that since the cause is a topic of interest to the Attorney General’s Office, that grant funding will follow to expand enforcement of distracted driving.
“We are committed to enforcing [the law for those who] talk on a cell phone and text while driving,” said Farley.
On Thursday, April 11, state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa and the Division of Highway Traffic Safety Acting Director Gary Poedubicky collaborated with traffic safety leaders nationwide for “Distracted Driving Awareness” month to let motorists know the importance of concentrating behind the wheel.
Chiesa said in a press release, “Texting and cell phone use while driving is extremely dangerous, and we know simply getting drivers to turn their phones off when they get behind the wheel will make our roads significantly safer.”
Chiesa stated that research shows that a texting driver presents the same threat as a drunk driver while on the road.
“We know it’s wrong and irresponsible to drive drunk. There’s equivalent danger here between drunk driving and distracted driving, and I believe we should approach the issues with the same seriousness,” said Chiesa in the release. “Decades of experience with drunk driving and getting people to buckle up has taught us it takes a consistent combination of public education, effective enforcement, and the collective efforts of local, state and national advocates to put a dent in the problem.”

Vanessa Cruz can be reached at

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