TRENTON –Senator Richard J. Codey (D-Essex) today called for action on legislation he has sponsored that would increase penalties for using a cell phone while driving. Codey’s call for action comes a week after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called for a nationwide ban on the use of cell phones and text messaging devices while driving. It is the most stringent recommendation yet made by the NTSB on this issue.
“In light of the NTSB’s recent announcement, it would only make sense that we move to get this legislation passed and signed into law,” said Codey. “There is now no question that texting and the use of handheld cell phones while driving are more dangerous than being intoxicated while behind the wheel. We had an all out, full fledged crusade to stop drunk driving, and rightfully so. But now it is time we put the same kind of effort into stopping texting and using a handheld cell phone while driving.”
The bill, S-2181, would put in place a graduated penalty structure for repeat offenders who violate the state’s hands-free cell phone law more than once in a ten-year period – a motor vehicle violation that, under current law, carries a $100 fine for first and subsequent offenses. Under the bill as amended, first-time offenders would have to pay a fine of $200. Drivers convicted of a second offense within 10 years of the first would have to pay a fine of $400, and drivers convicted of a third and subsequent offenses within 10 years of the first would have to pay a fine of $600 and face driver’s license suspension of up to 90 days.
A report by Car and Driver Magazine has shown how long it takes to hit the brake when sober (.54 seconds), drunk (add four feet), reading an e-mail (add 36 feet) and sending a text message (add 70 feet). A study by the Transport Research Laboratory showed that reaction times were 35% worse for drivers sending a text message, as opposed to 12% worse for those at the legal limit of intoxication and 21% worse for those under the influence of cannabis. A study prepared by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that text messaging took drivers’ focus away for 4.6 seconds, and a Clemson University simulator study found that text messaging and using an iPod caused drivers to leave their lanes ten percent more often.
In addition, a study recently released by the American Journal of Public Health noted that, if not for texting while driving, the number of deaths caused by distracted driving would have dropped every year from 2002 to 2007, from 4,611 deaths nationwide in 2001 to 1,925 in 2007. Instead, the study found a 19 percent increase in auto fatalities for every 1 million additional cell phone subscribers, and an increase to 5,870 deaths caused in 2008 due to distracted driving.
“I hope that the Assembly can move on this bill before the current Legislative session is over and that Governor Christie will sign it as soon as it lands on his desk. It has been a year since it passed in the Senate and any further delay will only cause more risk for people on the road,” said Codey.
S-2181 passed the Senate on December 20, 2010 by a vote of 30-7. It is currently before the Assembly Budget Committee.