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Distracted Driving In New Jersey: What You Need to Know

On behalf of Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf LLP | Oct 8, 2019 |

Distracted driving can be extremely dangerous.  According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, over 25 percent of motor vehicle accidents in the United States are the result of a distracted driving.  Nationwide, over 3,000 people were killed in distracted driving crashes just in in 2017.

Between 2013 and 2017, over 700,000 crashes in New Jersey involved a distracted driver, and driver inattention was listed as a contributing circumstance in 51 percent of the state’s crashes in 2017.

Using a Cell Phone While Driving

As of 2019, the State of New Jersey has passed legislation prohibiting only the use of cellular phones while driving, as it requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the driver, though a driver found to be distracted in other ways can be cited for careless or reckless driving.  A driver who is sending or reading a text does not have eyes on the road for approximately 5 seconds.  Traveling at 55 miles per hour, that’s the equivalent of driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.

While under New Jersey law, under N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.3, it is illegal for a driver to talk on a cellphone or send a text message while driving, there are exceptions.  A driver is permitted to use a hand-held cell phone, while driving with one hand on the wheel, if:

  1. If the driver is afraid for his or her life or thinks someone is about to commit a crime against him or her or another person;
  2. If the driver is using a cell phone to call the authorities about an emergency, such as a traffic accident or a reckless driver; and
  3. If the cell phone is in hands free mode.

If the driver is using a cell phone in hands free mode, the driver must place the cell phone in a location that does not “interfere with the operation of federally required safety equipment,” and the driver must always exercise a high degree of caution while driving.

Penalties for Using a Cellphone While Driving

A distracted driving violation can cost you hundreds of dollars.  First offenses carry fines of between $200 and $400.  For second offenses, fines range from $400 to $600.

If police cite a driver for using a cellphone while driving three or more times, the penalty is between $600 to $800, and three points are added to the driver’s driving record.  Furthermore, a judge has the discretion to order a driver to forfeit his or her driver’s license for a period of 90 days.  

During April, which is also National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, New Jersey has an annual campaign, called “U Text. U Drive. U Pay.”  Additional grants are given to law enforcement agencies in the state for use for additional patrols to issue tickets for distracted driving.  During the 2018 campaign, New Jersey police departments issued 13,146 tickets for cell phone use or texting and 5,697 for careless driving.  During the 2019 campaign, there were 15,105 citations for cell phone use/texting and 6,286 for careless driving.

If you received a traffic violation for using a cell phone or any other distracted driving activity, consider discussing your options with an experienced criminal defense attorney.