A trio of distracted driving measures have been put before New Jersey’s Assembly and Senate in the final weeks of the 2012-2013 session.
The Assembly Transportation Committee on Nov. 25 approved a bill from John Wisniewski that would outlaw any activity “unrelated to the actual operation of a motor vehicle” that distracts the driver. Wisniewski’s measure also would clarify that holding a mobile phone near one’s ear is cause for police to write a ticket under the New Jersey handheld cell phone law.
From state Sen. Richard Codey comes another bit of fine tuning. His bill (S3057) seeks to erase any doubt that use of handheld cell phones while stopped at red lights and stop signs is illegal. Codey’s bill also would require questions about distracted driving on the New Jersey driver’s license test.
And two Assemblywomen have just introduced legislation that would bar liability claims against people who text drivers. The bill comes in response to a late-summer appellate court ruling that senders of texts conceivably could be held liable for harm caused by a driver distracted by the message. “This legislation puts the responsibility where it belongs — in the front seat with the driver,” said one of the sponsors, Assemblywomen Caroline Casagrande.
New Jersey’s governor last summer signed off on significant increases in fines for texting & driving and the use of handheld cell phones. That new law that on July 1 will bring the state “the toughest hands-free cell phone law in the nation” originated with Sen. Codey.
The latest Codey bill regarding temporary stops (S3057) would bring New Jersey into compliance with federal requirements for a distracted driving education grant. The senator seeks He to get the federal funding flowing “before July 1 of 2014 so we have a huge (distracted driving education) campaign under way in New Jersey” at the same time the new fines begin.
Assemblyman Wisniewski sponsored what’s known as “Nikki’s Law,” which orders the state DOT to erect signs warning motorists of law prohibiting texting while driving in New Jersey. That bill was signed into law in August. His new general distracted driving legislation (A4461) already is drawing fire for its broad wording, which apparently would give police the right to ticket any motorist whose attention strays from the road. The measure has not been introduced in the Senate.
The legislation regarding liability for senders of text messages was filed about the same time that the decision was made not to test the appeals court decision at the state Supreme Court.
The couple who originated the widely publicized lawsuit sued a woman who text-messaged a driver who then hit their motorcycle, with both riders losing a leg. The court ruled for the female defendant, but said it was possible that someone who texts a driver could be held liable. The couple decided not to appeal to the high court, fearing justices might overturn the decision regarding general liability.
The 215th Legislature is in its final weeks with the holidays ahead. These bills would have to clear both houses by January, meaning they most likely would have to be refiled for the 2014-2015 session.