Leslie A. Farber
Distracted Driving: it’s Not Just Talking or Texting
Updated: Jul 3, 2019
Distracted driving is a dangerous epidemic on New Jersey’s roadways. It has been a major contributing factor in nearly 800,000 motor vehicle crashes in the state from 2010 to 2014 and nationwide 3,179 people were killed in distracted driving crashes in 2014 alone.
Any activity that could divert a person’s focus from the primary task of driving is considered a distraction. This includes talking or texting on cell phone as well as eating and drinking, grooming, talking to passengers, reading (including maps), using a navigation system, adjusting a radio, CD or MP3 player, and watching a video.
All distractions endanger driver, passenger, and bystander safety. But because text messaging requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention on the part of the driver, it is considered by far the most serious distraction. In New Jersey, it is a primary offense to text or talk using a handheld wireless phone or electronic communication device while driving. Specifically, the primary laws include:
Handheld ban for drivers of all ages
Ban on all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for bus drivers
Ban on all cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for novice drivers
Ban on texting for drivers of all ages
Legislation that took effect in 2014 increased the penalties associated with these infractions. Penalties currently range from $200 - $400 for first offenders to $600 - $800 for third offenses plus three penalty points and a possible 90-day suspension of your driver’s license.
Assemblymen John Wisniewski and Nicholas Chiaravalloti raised eyebrows last year when they proposed a New Jersey bill that would prohibit “any activity unrelated to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of the vehicle.” There are similar laws in Maine and Utah, and if passed, it would mean that motorists could be issued a summons for doing any of the things on the distracted driving list. The bill has not yet come up for a vote.
It is important for drivers to remember that GPS devices are covered under distracted-driving laws. Whether you’re in compliance depends on how you use and install them. Remember to follow the rules regarding hands-free usage and program your GPS before you leave or when you have safely pulled to the side of the road. Also make sure to install your navigation device properly. Many states have restrictions on where you can mount your GPS, particularly on windshields. Most manufacturers offer optional mounts for securing your device on your dashboard.
Recently there has been much debate about whether or not distracted driving laws apply to smartwatches. Most states have enacted laws allowing the use of hands-free devices, but many experts argue that smartwatches are not actually hands-free. Others say that using a smartwatch is even more dangerous than texting with a cell phone.
No state has updated its distracted driving laws to directly address wearable technology. However, while it may not be illegal to use your Apple Watch while driving, the open-ended laws in most states allow for discretion when deciding whether a driver was distracted.
Keep in mind that the laws vary from state to state. The government website Distraction.gov displays an interactive U.S. map outlining primary and secondary laws for text messaging and cell phone use behind the wheel.
Failing to follow distracted driving rules is not only expensive in terms of tickets, points against your license, and higher insurance premiums, it can also be dangerous. Ultimately, safety – not the fear of a ticket – should be every driver’s primary concern. If you have questions or would like to discuss specific issues affecting you or your family, please call me at 973-509-8500 x213 or email me at: LFarber@LFarberLaw.com.
The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.