My wife is always on her phone while she drives. What are the penalties and liabilities she is looking at if caught?
Hi Hands Free,
Thanks for writing about this topic. It’s actually an area of law that continues to evolve rapidly, and one that is on everyone’s mind (or at least everyone who drives). Distracted driving, talking while driving, driving and texting whatever you call it, is a dangerous and expanding threat to all of our safety on the roadway. As of now, NJ has passed some of the toughest laws that include a ban of handheld devices while driving which means you must use a hands free device while talking on your cell while driving or you’ll face a $100 fine. Many people think it is ok to hold your phone as long as you are using your speakerphone. That is not the case; it’s not called ear-free, it’s called hands free people! Texting, emailing and playing video games are prohibited while driving as well. That extends to updating your Facebook status, checking in on foursquare, or the use of most any other app you can think of. If you drive a school bus, thankfully you are prohibited from using a cell phone at all while driving. Drivers under the age of 21 with learner’s permits or probationary licenses are also banned from using any hands-free or hand-held device while driving. Interestingly, this has been extended to include a ban on Ipod’s as well so you better have a good playlist loaded before you start your drive.
However, things in Trenton may change and the laws may get stiffer. For starters, Bill S69 would give NJ some of, if not the, toughest hands-free cell phone law violations in the nation. The penalties would double from $100 to $200. The bill would also allow the penalties for distracted driving to escalate in relation to how many times you are caught- meaning that $200 fine would become a $400 if you are caught again within 10 years. Liability would be extended to allow prosecution for reckless driving of those that are found to be using their phones improperly while driving. More seriously, a person who is found to have been using a cell phone improperly while in a serious accident could be exposed to liability for criminal homicide or vehicular assault. Other bills being proposed would make violators of the distracted driving laws subject to imprisonment of up to 60 days and for 5 points to go against their license.
Even those who are on the receiving end of a text from a driver may not be immune. Recently, oral arguments were held in a case where a distracted driver swerved over a double yellow line and hit a motorcycle in the oncoming lane. Not only were the driver and the owner of the vehicle sued, but the party that the driver was texting with was named as well. While this case has not been decided, it will be one to follow as it will shape our understanding of liability, electronic presence and distracted driving.
If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at 973-685-7160.
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