The use of cell phones while driving for calls or text messaging has resulted in increased, and justified, scrutiny in recent years. According to statistics by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, there were 3,633 crashes related to cellphone use in 2013 alone, 6 of them resulting in death. In July 2014, a New Jersey man was charged with vehicular homicide for killing another driver while engaged in an active texting conversation while driving. In 2013, a 70 year old Ledgewood woman drove her car into an apartment building while talking on her cell phone.
A few short months ago, a Toms River police car parked on a shoulder was rear-ended by a driver talking on her cell phone. In this state, the use of a hand-held cell phone while driving is explicitly prohibited, with some exceptions described below. New Jersey drivers can use hands-free cell phones that do not interfere with driving. Violators can receive a variety of fines, increasing in severity with each subsequent offense. A first offense carries a fine between $200 and $400 and a second offense a fine between $400 and $600. A third offense and any beyond that results in a fine between $600 and $800 and a possible license suspension of 90 days (which could result in loss of a job). Also, a third time offender will get 3 points on his/her license.
The law has a “public safety” exception. A driver can use a hand-held cell phone while driving, keeping one hand on the wheel, if the person has reason to fear for his or her life or safety, believes that a criminal act may be perpetrated against himself/herself or another person, or is using the telephone to report a fire, car accident, or other road hazard. Likewise, a driver is allowed to use a hand-held cell phone if he or she is reporting a reckless driver or a driver who appears to be intoxicated.
Drivers in New Jersey should be aware of this law and know the potentially devastating consequences of driving while using a cell phone. Like the harsh “drunk driving” laws in this state, it shows an intention to eliminate dangerous behavior behind the wheel. With the collaboration of Connor Turpan, Rutgers School of Law Newark candidate for a JD degree in May 2016 and Associate Editor on the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal.