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New Penalties for Cell Phone Use on the Road

Governor Chris Christine recently signed a new bill that will increase fines for drivers caught texting and making calls without hands-free devices while driving. The bill, S-69, will go into effect a year from now, but personal injury lawyers in New Jersey say that drivers should use the waiting period to develop better habits and start eliminating distractions while on the road.

According to the National Safety Council, American drivers have been involved in more than 600,000 crashes as a result of drivers talking and texting while driving so far this year. A vast majority of these accidents end in injuries to the driver, passengers, and any other person in an affected vehicle – many of these injuries are fatal. As technology advances make cell phones more prevalent in society, more than 3,000 people die each year in distracted driving accidents.

Statistics show that young drivers are at a high risk for distracted driving injuries. Most teenagers carry cell phones, and rely on them for communication, directions, and entertainment. But this reliance often means that teens take unnecessary risks using their phones without Bluetooth headsets or other hands-free hookups. Drivers under the age of 20 are the largest group of distracted drivers; 11% of young drivers involved in fatal crashes were distracted, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Although anything that takes a driver’s mind off the road in front of him is a potentially dangerous distraction, studies have shown that handheld devices such as cell phones and GPS units carry a greater risk. Drivers are recommended to use hands-free headsets and voice activated navigation systems when they need to make calls or look up directions. Even hands-free interactions force the driver to divide his focus between the device and the road and other drivers.

S-69 will increase the existing $100 fine for using a cell phone while driving to $200 to $400 for a first offense, $400 to $600 for a second offense, and $600 to $800 for any other offenses. Along with higher fines, third-time offenders can have their licenses suspended for 90 days. Drivers who have been caught three or more times are also subject to three motor vehicle penalty points on their license. In New Jersey, drivers with six points on their license in a three-year period are assessed a surcharge, and those with twelve or more points face license suspension.

The bill includes a stipulation mandated by the Assembly. The money collected from the increased fines would be split equally between the town or county where the driving violation occurred, and the Motor Vehicle Commission, for the development of an educational program warning drivers about the dangers of using handheld phones while on the road. Using funds to raise awareness about distracted driving will hopefully cut down on the number of accidents and injuries suffered as a result, New Jersey personal injury lawyers say.

At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, P.A., the personal injury attorneys represent anyone who has been injured or has lost a loved one as a result of distracted driving. 

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