TRAFFIC SAFETY: In NJ, soon drinking coffee in the car could cost you

Aug. 8, 2016

A bill is being sponsored by Democrats in legislature that could fine drivers up to $800 for sipping and driving

In New Jersey, the hammer might well be coming down on distracted driving swift and soon.

A bill being sponsored by State Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) and Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson), which is modeled after a law in Maine and is, according to legislators, intended to educate, not punish drivers, would impose stiff fines and even a possible license suspension for drivers who eat, drink, groom, read or use electronic devices behind the wheel.

Violators could face a $200 to $400 fine for the first offense and a $400 to $600 fine for a second offense. A third or subsequent offense could mean a fine of $600 to $800 and up to a 90 day license suspension, as well as motor vehicle points.

 “The issue is that we need to try, in every way, to discourage distracted driving. It’s dangerous,” Wisniewski said. “Education and enforcement can change the attitudes of people.”

While most leaders and transportation experts alike agree that motorists must be discouraged from multitasking while driving, others question how police could enforce such a measure—a measure which in some circles is being characterized as a governmental overreach.

“This proposed distracted driving law is not needed, since three statutes can be used when a distraction causes unsafe actions, like swerving or crossing a line,” said Steve Carrellas, policy and government affairs director for the National Motorists Association state chapter. “There is unsafe driving, careless driving and reckless driving. “Would [the bill] make changing the radio station or adjusting the volume illegal? What about talking to a passenger?” 

Arnold Anderson, the Essex County Community Traffic Safety Program coordinator, said its imperative that motorists break the habit of doing more than one thing while driving.

“You’ve got to get people out of the mindset of multitasking,” said Anderson. “You can’t multitask. We are so far away from the mindset of … just drive.”

Officials from AAA said that a distraction law would be hard to enforce since an officer would have to observe how the driver was distracted.

“The legislation introduced by Assemblyman Wisniewski, while admirable in theory, may not help police enforce the law,” said Tracy Noble, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman, who hedged her position by saying, “The more widespread the message of eliminating distractions becomes, the more likely it is to be ingrained in everyday behavior, similar to seat belt usage.”

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