TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Nicholas Sacco (D-Hudson/Bergen) and Brian Stack (D-Hudson) prohibiting operators of public transit vehicles from texting while at the wheel of a bus or at the controls of a train today received final legislative approval by the full Assembly. The measure now heads to the desk of Governor Chris Christie.
“We know that texting while driving is extremely dangerous, but doing it while operating a public transit vehicle, when the lives of so many people are at stake, is completely unacceptable,” said Senator Sacco. “This legislation will send a strong message to transit employees that this behavior will not be tolerated. Hopefully, the threat of jail time and a hefty fine will make operators think twice about pulling out their cell phones while on duty.”
The bill was crafted, in part, in response to a massive train collision in Chatsworth, California in 2008, in which 25 people were killed and more than 100 injured. The driver was sending and receiving text messages seconds before his commuter train missed a red light and plowed head-on into a freight train, according to federal investigators. The crash is considered the worst U.S. train crash in more than a decade.
“We know that serious accidents can occur when drivers take their eyes off the road for just a few seconds, leading to severe injuries or even death. But when a public transit operator becomes distracted, the results can be catastrophic,” said Senator Stack. “This bill will ensure that bus and train operators who text message while on the job face severe penalties for their actions, and it will put drivers on notice that we are serious about riders’ safety.”
The bill (A-407/S-732) would make it a disorderly person’s offense for public transit operators – including light rail and bus drivers – to talk or send text messages via a cell phone or other electronic communication device while the vehicle is in motion. Violators would be subject to imprisonment for up to 6 months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Exceptions would be made for phone calls made or messages sent during special circumstances, such as an emergency, or in the event of radio communication failure.
The Senate passed it 38-0 in October. The Assembly gave it final approval by a vote of 74-0-1.