NJ gets tough on cell phones while driving

February 29, 2008 9:06:23 PM PST
Keep your hands on the wheel and off of the cell phone in New Jersey or it will cost you. Starting today, chatting it up on your mobile device can get you fined. Lawmakers noticed that in 2006 more than 35-hundred crashes were linked to cell phone use in New Jersey, so they changed the rules.

New Jersey joins four other states, including neighboring New York, where talking on a hand-held cell phone is reason enough to get pulled over. New Jersey also becomes the first state where text messaging on the road is a primary offense, meaning police need no other reason to pull a driver over, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"I think it's good for public safety. People tend not to pay attention when they drive and they cause accidents," said Jason Ertel.

"I think it's a great idea. I'm concerned about that because I've had people almost run in to me," said Linda O'Brien.

Authorities say statistics in New Jersey show that distractions from cell phones or texting devices contribute to 25 percent of all the traffic crashes reported to police.

To remind drivers that the tougher law is in effect, they will be seeing billboards proclaiming "No conversation is worth a ticket--or your life."

That ticket will cost you $100, which is why cell phone stores have been hopping.

"I had to pickup a blue tooth because I heard that if I don't have a Bluetooth, I'm going have to pay a lot of money for it," said Toni Ann Rotondi.

Not everyone is convinced the tougher law will make a difference.

"I don't really see that if you're involved in a conversation having it up (to your ear) versus talking to the speaker in the car that it makes a difference," said Chris Fader.

Take note: you can still use your cell phone while driving if you have a hands-free device or if you are calling police, fire or an ambulance.

New drivers, using graduated licenses, are not permitted to use any electronic device -- ever.

Driving while using a hand-held cell phone has been illegal in New Jersey since 2004, when the state became the second in the nation to pass a ban. However, it was considered a secondary offense - something drivers could be ticketed for if they were pulled over for another reason. Over the past year, state courts have recorded 16,000 tickets issued for the offense.

Twenty-one state legislatures this year are considering some kind of ban on texting while driving.

"It's a popular issue this year," said Matt Sundeen, a transportation analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures. "We expect to see some movement on this."

Drivers know it's a hard habit to break.

"At the outset, I was more guilty than anyone," said Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, who sponsored the bill to create a tougher ban.

He said he stopped reading e-mails on his Blackberry after his 12-year-old daughter scolded him. "That's when I realized - this is crazy."

So put those phones down and get yourself a headset or you may be talking yourself into a ticket!