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  • By: Kevin Leckerman, Esq.
  • Published: November 21, 2013
A person in the driver's seat of a bus using a cell phone - Leckerman Law, LLC

TRENTON – State Sen. Richard Codey is looking to expand the current state law to ban drivers from talking and texting on their cell phones while at a spotlight. This law will also apply to those drivers who are temporarily stuck in a traffic jam, at a red light or any other stop sign.

The bill was proposed to the legislation last week. According to Codey, under the current driving law, if you are drunk and at a red light, you will get a DUI. The new bill will also require the written driver’s license test to include questions on distracted driving as it is an as dangerous issue as drunk driving.

With this new bill, Codey aims to put the state of New Jersey in line with federal standards for the Distracted Driving Grant Program. His aim is that the state gets federal money to combat distracted driving. Since the current state law does not include distracted driving, the state is not currently eligible for the grant.

“At the end of the day, we want money to discourage people from driving while distracted,” said Codey. He does not know how much he could get with this bill, but a total of $17.5 million was reserved by the federal Department of Transportation last year to be made available to states which have distracted driving laws.

In June, a bill was signed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie that dramatically increased penalties for drivers who are driving while talking or texting on their cell phones. The bill which is expected to take effect in July will increase fines for a first time offense for drivers arrested for distracted driving. Fines for a first time offense will increase from $100 to between $200 and $400. Fines will be higher for repeat offenders of at least $400 and third time offenders will be fined at least $600. Third time offenders may also have their driver’s license suspended for up to three months as ordered by a judge.

Apart from the support being received by the new bill, a representative of the National Motorists Association in New Jersey, Steve Carrellas, was not happy about the proposal. He thought it would be counterproductive. According to Carrellas, there may be people who want to check their mobile phone on a red light for messages so they can pull over safely and respond to the email or message if it is important.

“This federal lust for dictating terms of a grant is counterproductive to avoiding distraction by cell phones,” he said. According to him, it is all about the money.

According to Codey, the bill has not been introduced in the Assembly yet and he is not sure what chance the bill has of moving in the Legislature. The two-year legislative session will end in a couple of sessions and if the bill has not passed both houses by January, it will have to be reintroduced. Codey really hopes to get the bill passed so the new, harsher penalties for using a cell phone while driving will take effect next year. Codey is looking to get it done before July 1 of 2014 so they have a huge campaign under way in New Jersey. According to Codey, the more people read about this, the bigger issue it becomes.

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