New Jersey Serious About Ticketing Handheld Talking, Texting

March 8, 2010
Speeding up, slowing down and weaving back and forth are all caused by texting

Speeding up, slowing down and weaving back and forth are all caused by texting

When New Jersey tells you not to use a handheld cellphone to talk or text while driving, they mean it.

In the 23 months since New Jersey's ban of talking or texting on handheld cellphones, police have written 224,725 citations, according to the NJ Star-Ledger—adding up to about four percent of the state's total moving violations, not counting drunk driving, during that period, and by far the most any state has written so far.

The tickets include a $100 fine, even for a first offense; and yes, it will go on your record. New Jersey is also among many states that now allow data to be collected about cellphone use or distraction on police accident reports.

A Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind survey, co-sponsored by the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, last July found that hand-held voice use was down versus two years before, however a higher percentage of nearly all age groups are sending more handheld texts while driving than before.

Just as speeding is tied to other hazardous behaviors, it's tied to unsafe cellphone use: According to the PublicMind poll, drivers who speed regularly are two and a half times more likely than other drivers to have sent a text message while driving—more likely too, to have made "rude gestures at other motorists."

The study also found that using a hands-free phone was just as risky as holding a cellphone while driving.

New Jersey's handheld cellphone use ban covers all drivers, for talking or texting, and it's a primary enforcement offense—meaning that an officer can pull the driver over and issue a citation for that alone. In neighboring New York, talking on a handheld is primary but texting is secondary, meaning that citations will only be issued in combination with another citation.

Although the telecommunications industry has blocked a number of bans through lobbying efforts in the past, some of them are now getting on board in advising drivers not to talk or text at all when behind the wheel. Wireless provider AT&T has just launched a campaign that declares, "txtng & driving … it can wait"

Eating or drinking while driving is as dangerous as using a cellphone

Eating or drinking while driving is as dangerous as using a cellphone

Furthermore, a recent report from the IIHS hinted that there are other factors in play—like our attitudes about distraction. Looking solely at the frequency of crashes before and after the enactment of new laws restricting handheld cellphone use in several states, the researchers found no recognizable reduction in accidents. This hints, experts say, that people might actually be communicating more behind the wheel—or in more hazardous situations—with "safer" hands-free options, or having hands free allows them to do other distracting tasks, like eating or drinking.


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