Last updated: January 2, 2015
Distracted driving update: New Jersey continues to identify “driver inattention” as the leading contributor to vehicle fatalities. In the year 2013, driver inattention was blamed for 164 crashes resulting in deaths. That’s down slightly from 2012 and 2011. Distracted driving has been the leading cause of highway deaths in New Jersey since 2008, according to fatality statistics from New Jersey State Police. In 2013, New Jersey recorded 508 fatal collisions that resulted in 542 deaths, a three-year low. The annual analysis was released by police in November 2014. Preliminary numbers for 2014 show 563 deaths.
New penalties are in effect under what’s billed as “the toughest hands-free cell phone law in the nation.” Here are the new New Jersey penalties for texting or talking on a cell phone while driving. They went into effect July 1, 2014:
- First offense: $200 to $400
- Second offense: $400 to $600
- Third & subsequent: Up to $800, three points vs. license. Possible 90-day suspension of license.
“The third and subsequent fines is where we’re really going to get serious,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, who was active in the passage of state Sen. Richard Codey’s S69, which was approved by the governor in late June 2013.
“We’ve had enough and the people who text and talk on their handheld cell phones are the new drunk drivers in terms of severity and danger in what they create on the roads,” says Codey, a former governor.
No distracted driving legislation apparently was submitted for the 2014-2015 session. New Jersey already has one of the nation’s strongest set of laws concerning texting and use of cell phones while driving.
- Drivers must use hands-free devices while talking on cell phones.
- Text messaging and use of video games prohibited while driving.
- School bus operators prohibited from using cell phones while driving.
- Drivers under the age of 21 with learner’s permits or probationary licenses are prohibited from using cell phones, texting devices and other hand-held or hands-free wireless electronic devices while driving (includes iPods).
Distracted driving notes (2014):
A Lower Township man who hit and killed two pedestrian girls while texting & driving has been sentenced to 18 years in prison. He was drunk at the time he hit the teen cousins in the summer of 2012. Joshua Malmgren, 33, pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter and declared himself “a monster.” He was sentenced in December 2014.
Distracted driving legislation (2012-2013):
A1074: Provides for charge of vehicular homicide if a death occurs due to a driver’s cell phone use. Driving while using a cell phone would be assumed to be reckless driving. Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis’ Law. Penalties would include prison time and fines up to $150,000, similar to drunken driver punishments. This bill is identical to S1616, below. Bill number A2816 in the previous session.
- A1074 legislative activity: Amended and approved unanimously by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on June 8, 2012. The committee added to the vehicle assault section a provision that use of a handheld cell phone could be prosecuted as reckless driving. Approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on June 18. Approved by the full Assembly in a unanimous (79-0) vote taken June 21. To the Senate. Substituted for S1616 (below). Approved by the Senate in a 38-0 vote taken June 28. Passed both houses. Signed into law July 18, 2012. (Quijano, Coutinho, etc.)
S69: Would hike penalties for violators of state’s hands-free cell phone/texting law. Fines for first-time violators increased to $200-$400. Second offense in 10 years would bring a $400-$600 fine. Third and subsequent offenses within 10 years of the first would be $600-$800 plus a 90-day license suspension and 3 points against license. (Fines reflect committee amendment of Dec. 13.) Previously S2181.
- S69 legislative activity: Amended and approved by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee on June 4. Amendment routes some money from fines to education about dangers of texting. OK’d by the budget committee June 18 (12-1 vote). Approved by the full Senate in a 37-0 vote taken June 25. Amended and approved by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee in a unanimous vote taken Dec. 13. Amended by Assembly on Feb. 14, 2013, to split ticket revenues between state and ticketing municipality. Same as A1080. Approved by the full Assembly in a 73-2 vote March 21. Final approval by the Senate in a unanimous vote of May 13. Signed into law by the governor June 27. (Codey)
A3873: aka “Nikki’s Law.” Would require DOT to erect signs informing motorists of law prohibiting texting while driving in New Jersey. Approved by the Assembly in a unanimous vote of April 29. Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee on May 20. Approved by the Senate in a unanimous vote of June 20. Signed by the governor Aug. 14. (Assembly: Wisniewski. Senate: Madden via S2406)
S3057: Would bar motorists from using handheld cell phones to talk or text while stopped temporarily, as in at stoplights. Also seeks to place distracted driving questions on driver’s license tests. (Codey/Scutari)
S2547 and A3842: Seeks to create distracted driving task force. 11 members, three from public. Topics include technological developments. Approved by the Senate Public Safety Committee on Feb. 21. (Senate: Madden, Assembly: Quijano)
S2783: Would allow police to search a driver’s cell phone in cases of injury, death or property damage. Officer needs “reasonable grounds” and must return device to the driver. Also increases fine for text messaging while driving to $300 and 2 points against the offender’s license. Drivers convicted of causing an accident while texting subject to three-month license suspension. (Holzapfel)
A1080: Would increase penalties for hands-free cell phone/text messaging law violations. Fines: $200-$400 then $400-$600 and then $600-$800 (as amended in committee Dec. 13). 90-day driver’s license suspension for third and subsequent offenses and 3 points against license. Previously A3154. Approved by the Senate in a 37-0 vote of June 25. Amended and approved by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee in a unanimous vote taken Dec. 13. Amended by Assembly on Feb. 14, 2013, to split fine revenues between state and the ticketing municipality. Latest legislative action:: Substituted by SB 69, above. (Quijano, Spencer, etc.)
A2199 : Would increase fines for text messaging or using handheld cell phones to $200 (first offense) then $400 and then $600. For more than two violations, 3 points against driver’s license and possible 90-day license suspension. Also clears way for reckless driving prosecution for violators of handheld cell phone law. Aka Kulesh, Kubert, and Bolis Law. Latest legislative action: Combined with A1074 by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on June 7. (Moriarty)
A1480: Would bar police from seizing cell phones without a warrant. (O’Scanlon)
A1619: For holders of commercial driver’s licenses, would increase fine for texting or using handheld cell phone to $250. Fine would remain $100 for non-commercial drivers. Previously A2437.
A1628: Would make violators of the state electronic distracted driving laws guilty of reckless driving. Fine: $100 and/or imprisonment for up to 60 days. 5 points against driver’s license. Previously A4176.(Bramnick)
A2229: Would bar driving instructors from using handheld wireless devices while teaching. (Rumpf, Gove)
A2355/S1179: Would bar drivers of boats from texting and using of cell phones. (G. Johnson)
A2533: Would classify use of handheld cell phone as “reckless driving.” Fines: $100 (first offense), then $250/$350/$500 with possibility of community service or imprisonment. Third offense has possible six-month license loss; fourth for one year. (G. Johnson)
A2764: Seeks to hike fines for use of handheld wireless devices. Fines: $200 (first offense), then $400/$600. For third offense, possible 90-day loss of license and three points against license. (Moriarty, Mosquera)
A4410: Would relive from any liability a person who sends a text message to a driver who then causes a crash while interacting with the text. Reaction to state appeals court ruling that a text sender could be liable for civil damages in limited circumstances (see above). (Riley, Casagrande)
A4461: General distracted driving bill. Would bar “any activity unrelated to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of the vehicle on a public road or highway.” Also amends current statute to specify that a driver is presumed to be in violation of cell phone law if holding device near ear. Fines: Fines: $200-$400 then $400-$600 and then $600-$800. Points with third offense. (Fines the same as handheld cell phone/texting law.) Approved by the Transportation Committee in a unanimous vote of Nov. 25, 2013. (Wisniewski)
2013 distracted driving notes:
A general distracted driving bill has made a late-session appearance, with approval from the Assembly Transportation Committee on Nov. 25. The bill, from Assemblyman John Wisniewski, would outlaw any activity “unrelated to the actual operation of a motor vehicle” that distracts the driver. Its penalties would be the same as for the existing electronic distracted driving law. The measure also would clarify that holding a cell phone near the ear can be presumed to be an infraction of the handheld law.
State Sen. Richard Codey seeks to make it clear that use of handheld cell phones at red lights is illegal. The Senate bill, also filed late in the 2012-2013 session, would bring New Jersey into compliance with requirements for a federal distracted driving grant. Codey’s bill also seeks to place questions about distracted driving on the New Jersey driver’s license test.
Codey was author of the legislation that increased fines for electronic distracted driving in New Jersey. Codey may have to refile the latest bill (S3057) in early 2014. He wants 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.”
Two New Jersey assemblywomen have introduced legislation that would bar liability claims against people who text drivers. Assemblywomen Caroline Casagrande said: “This legislation puts the responsibility where it belongs — in the front seat with the driver.”
The bill (A4410) is in response to a court ruling that senders of texts conceivably could be held liable for harm caused by a driver distracted by the message. The three-judge New Jersey appeals court rejected liability in the case it was considering, but said it could arise if the text sender had a “special reason” to believe the driver would read the message while behind the wheel. The plaintiffs decided not to appeal to the state Supreme Court, their attorney said in mid-November.
The civil case was brought by motorcyclists Linda and David Kubert, who both lost a left leg in a distracted driving crash in 2009. The Kuberts’ attorney said they were disappointed that no damages were awarded, but were “encouraged” that the ruling may benefit victims in the future. They previously received a $500,000 insurance settlement from the driver’s insurance company. Read more about the New Jersey texting liability ruling.
“Nikki’s Law” is now law in New Jersey. Gov. Chris Christie on Aug. 14 signed the legislation, which requires the DOT to erect signs warning of the state’s texting & driving law.
Nikki’s Law is named after a Washington Township teen who died in an apparent texting crash. Senate approval came June 20; the Assembly version was OK’d in late April. Both votes were unanimous.
State Sen. Fred Madden’s bill requiring signs advising motorists of the texting & driving law was approved by the governor in mid-August. Madden says the roadside signs could save lives. They’re “a reminder to drivers that their activity is illegal may be enough to prompt them to stop texting and focus on the road.” Madden named the legislation after Nikki Kellenyi of Gloucester County, who died in an apparent distracted driving crash in 2012.
Nikki Kellenyi’s death also played a role in Madden’s bid to establish a distracted driving task force in New Jersey. Most members would be officials, but three of the 11 would come from the public. The bill was advanced by the Senate Public Safety Committee on Feb. 21 after testimony from the teen’s father, Mike Kellenyi: “Maybe other parents wouldn’t go through what I’m going through because it is a nightmare,” he told the panel.
The plan for a statewide task force to battle distracted driving originated in the Senate. Madden says he’s alarmed by the increased use of smartphones and tablet computers. “We have done extensive work to strengthen our laws and penalties related to distracted driving, but it is clear that we have to do more,” Madden said. “We must also find ways to prevent these activities and to educate drivers about the risks involved with texting and talking while behind the wheel.”
2012 distracted driving notes:
New Jersey has adopted a law allowing full prosecution of cell phone users if they drive recklessly and cause serious harm or death. Penalties would include prison time and fines up to $150,000, similar to drunken driver punishments.
“If you wouldn’t drink and drive you shouldn’t text and drive,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who signed the measure July 18, 2012.
The legislation A1074 was tagged Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis’ Law, after New Jersey victims of distracted driving accidents. Read more about the New Jersey distracted driving prosecution measure.
About 10,000 crashes can be laid to cell phone use for the period 2008-2010, the state Department of Law and Public Safety reports.
Distracted driving checkpoints could be popping up in New Jersey in 2013. State Division of Highway Traffic Safety officials say they’re expecting federal funding.
“Driver inattention” contributed to 178 traffic fatalities in New Jersey during 2011, State Police researchers reported in late 2012. That’s the highest number in four years, halting a steady decline in distracted driver deaths since 2008.
On the interstates, almost half of the traffic fatalities reported in New Jersey during 2011 were linked to driver distraction (33 deaths). View the N.J. traffic fatalities report (PDF).
The mother of Toni Donalto-Bols said after the July 18 enactment of the Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis’ Law: “It’s such a bitter sweet day. At least I know my daughter’s name will live on forever.” Donalto-Bolls and her unborn child were killed by a driver using a cell phone. Her sister also told the Gloucester County Times: “Now I can say she didn’t die in vain.”
“Any driver willing to play Russian Roulette with other people’s lives should face the stiffest penalties possible,” says Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, D-Essex, a sponsor of A1074. That bill, along with the identical S1616, allows for full prosecution of cell phone users if they drive recklessly and cause serious harm or death. Penalties could include 10 years in prison.
The Star-Ledger is calling for New Jersey to continue to pioneer distracted driving legislation by banning the use of handheld cell phones, regardless of whether a hands-free device is attached. The Newark newspaper editorialized June 3: “While twice as harsh as the current fines for texting behind the wheel, this attempt (SB69) still falls far short of what it will take to stop the dangerous distractions. If New Jersey lawmakers want to stop (distracted driving), they must ban all cell phone use while driving — even with a hands-free device — and back it up with penalties more like those for drunken driving.” New Jersey was among the first states to ban use of handheld cell phones and text messaging while driving.
“Enough is enough,” says Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, sponsor of a bill that would allow reckless driving prosecution of distracted driving offenders. Moriarty’s A2199 is dubbed the Kulesh, Kubert’s, and Bolis’ Law, referring to New Jersey victims of distracted driving accidents. Moriarty’s measure also would dump the current $100 fine for a graduated penalty scale that begins at $200. (This bill was later combined with AI074.)
S69 sponsor Sen. Richard Codey, D-Essex, pushed for action on his bill in both houses by citing the National Transportation Safety Board’s recent call for a total U.S. ban on cell phone use while driving. “In light of the NTSB’s recent announcement, it would only make sense that we move to get this legislation passed and signed into law,” Codey said Dec. 21. The Senate OK’d S69 in late June.
At least six pieces of distracted driving legislation are up for consideration in the 2012 session.
2011 distracted driving notes:
SB 2181 sponsor Sen. Richard Codey, waited a year for further meaningful activity on his legislation, which cleared the Senate in December 2010: “I hope that the Assembly can move on this bill before the current Legislative session is over and that Gov. Christie will sign it as soon as it lands on his desk. … Any further delay will only cause more risk for people on the road,” Codey said shortly after the NTSB recommended a total ban on cell phones and driving in the U.S. The year ended without further activity and the bill was renamed S69 for 2012-13.
Codey said in March 2011: “While New Jersey has appropriately tough laws on the books regarding drinking while driving, the penalties for texting while driving are a mere slap on the wrist.” Codey authored the 2007 legislation that upgraded New Jersey’s handheld cell phone ban to primary enforcement.
New Jersey drivers can’t be cited for having their hands on cell phones, an appellate court ruled. The judges overturned a ruling in Superior Court that said, essentially, that the pushing of buttons wasn’t necessary to operate a cell phone in hands-free mode. The appellate court judges noted that drivers need to punch in phone numbers (or a speed-dial number) in order to initiate a call. The case began after a Tenafly police officer cited a motorist for “pushing buttons” on his cell phone.
Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan saw his A407 signed into law by the governor in late January. It bars train operators and bus drivers from using wireless electronic communications devices.“Hopefully this (enactment will) send a strong message that public safety always supersedes any need to send a text message,” said Diegnan, D-Middlesex. “A text message can wait. Public transportation safety cannot.”
The bills seeking to establish the “Kulesh and Kubert’s Law” (S1950, A2816) were introduced on May 20, 2010, but have not advanced as of February 2011. A tentative hearing has been set before the Assembly’s Law and Public Safety committee on March 3. Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, the committee’s chairman, supports the legislation.
The law would be named after Helen Kulesh, who was killed by a woman driving and talking on a cell phone, and David and Linda Kubert, who both lost a leg after a motorist hit them, allegedly while texting and driving with his elbows. Sen. Raymond Lesniak is the Senate sponsor; Reps. Annette Quijano and Albert Coutinho are the House sponsors.
The Assembly is considering a bill (AB 3312) that would prohibit boat drivers from texting or using cell phones (handheld or hands-free) while on the water.
New Jersey officials suspect distracted driving is partly responsible for an 18 percent increase in collision fatalities in 2011’s first quarter.
State Police say that 24 people were killed in accidents blamed on cell phone-related crashes between 2006 and 2009 and 3,076 others were injured.
S2181: Provides for graduated penalties for violators of state’s hands-free cell phone/texting law. (As amended 9/13) fines for first-time violators would be increased by $100, to $200. Second offense in 10 years would bring a $400 fine. Third and subsequent offenses within 10 years of the first would be $600 plus a 90-day license suspension. Approved (4-1) by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee on Sept. 13, 2010, and then by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee (7-4) on Nov. 15, 2010. The plan to establish graduated penalties for distracted driving was approved by the full Senate in a 30-7 vote on Dec. 20, 2010. Latest action: Approved by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee in an 8-0 vote on March 7. Sent to the budget committee. Companion to A3154, below. (Codey and Girgenti).
A407: Prohibits train operators and bus drivers from using wireless telephones and other electronic communications devices. Includes light-rail operators. Fines up to $1,000, imprisonment for six months, or both. Approved by the Senate (38-0 vote) on Oct. 18. Approved by the Assembly (74-0-1) on Dec. 13. Latest action: Signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie on or about Jan. 26, 2011. (Companion bill S732) (Diegnan)
A2331: Would prohibit driving instructors from using cell phones (handheld and hands-free) as well as other handheld wireless communications devices. Formerly A2737. Fines: $25 (first) then $50. (Rumpf)
A2816: Provides for charge of vehicular homicide or assault by vehicle if a death occurs due to a driver’s cell phone use. Driving while using a cell phone would be assumed to be reckless driving. aka Kulesh and Kubert’s Law. Penalties would include prison time and fines up to $150,000, similar to drunken driver punishments. The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee reported favorably on the bill May 19, 2011. Companion bill to S2181, below. (Quijano)
A3154: Seeks tougher graduated penalties for violators of state’s hands-free cell phone/text messaging law. Fines: $200 (first offense), then $400 and then $600 (fines increased via amendment). 90-day driver’s license suspension for third and subsequent offenses. Amended by Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee March 7 and referred to Assembly Appropriations Committee. Companion bill to S2181, which also has been amended to the higher fines shown above. (Quijano)
S1950: Provides for charge of vehicular homicide or assault by vehicle if a death occurs due to a driver’s cell phone use. Driving while using a cell phone would be assumed to be reckless driving. aka Kulesh and Kubert’s Law. Penalties would include prison time and fines up to $150,000, similar to drunken driver punishments. Senate Law and Public Safety Committee voted in favor of bill (4-0) on May 26, 2011. Identical to A2816. (Lesniak)
S1429: Exempts from any distracted driving laws the use of citizen’s band and two-way radios by operators of commercial motor vehicles. A2542 in House. Formerly S2243. Approved by the governor and now law. (Madden)
S732: Transit driver bill substituted by A407, above. (Sacco)
Use the following link to search for full reports on New Jersey distracted driving bills. (State’s web site does not allow direct links to bills.)
2010 distracted driving notes:
Sen. RIchard Codey sponsored S2181, which toughens penalties for cell phone use. “It is time to take serious action against those who would put themselves and the public at risk,” Codey said upon the bill’s passage in the Senate on Dec. 20. “Texting while driving is a lethal, dangerous activity that goes about essentially unpunished in New Jersey.”
New Jersey law agencies are writing about 10,000 tickets a month for driving and using handheld cell phones, or for driving and text messaging. A407, which restricts public transit drivers from text messaging, is a repeat of last session’s A3358. Approval in both houses was unanimous.
More SB 2181: Sen. Codey told a Senate panel: “Despite public outreach, despite the dangers, despite police crackdowns, we still see drivers on our roads ignoring common sense and violating the state’s hands-free cell phone law.” The committee agreed, advancing his bill in a 4-1 vote on Sept. 13.
The Division of Highway Traffic Safety said about 225,000 tickets were issued in the two-year period after New Jersey’s handheld cell phone law went into effect in March 2008. About 3,600 accidents were linked to handheld cell phone use in that period. Between 2006 and 2008, 5,500 phone-related accidents were reported.
In 2009, accidents linked to handheld cell phone use by drivers numbered 1,789. Six people died in those crashes, authorities said.
The New Jersey Graduated Driver License Law was updated May 1 in part to clarify the ban on all uses of hand-held or hands-free interactive wireless communication devices for drivers with probationary (provisional) licenses. They are prohibited from using any kind of controls on these devices, including buttons and keys.
The AAA Clubs of New Jersey report that almost all state drivers believe other motorists are distracted by cell phones — but only 52 percent admit to talking and driving themselves. 37 percent of drivers between the ages of 18 and 29 said they used text messaging devices or cell phones while behind the wheel.
A3358: Would have prohibited operators of public transit vehicles from text messaging while vehicles are moving. Includes light-rail operators. Combined with A3285, which addressed texting and railway operators. (Same as S2536.)
A3358 is sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr., D-Middlesex. It cleared in the transportation committee as a substitute on Jan. 26, 2009.
Diegnan’s ban on texting while driving public transit vehicles calls for fines of up to $1,000 and six months in jail. It is one of the many texting-related bills filed nationwide in response to the L.A. commuter crash.
Twin House and Senate bills that would have exempted truckers from the state’s ban on handheld cell phone use failed to advance in the 2009 session. Specifically, the bills would have approved use of citizen’s band radios and two-way radios. The House bill was approved, but the Senate left the legislation in committee. (AB 3084, SB 2242)
The Assembly has approved a plan for drivers with limited licenses (teenagers, usually) to place an identifying placard on their vehicles. Part of the idea is to help police enforce New Jersey’s law that prohibits motorists under the graduated driver program from talking on a cell phone, regardless of whether a hands-free device is employed. The Assembly vote came March 5 and the plan awaits the governor’s signature.
Eighteen municipalities in seven New Jersey counties undertook a two-week crackdown on drivers ignoring the state’s cell phone law for motorists. The March 2009 “Hang Up, Just Drive” program was funded by the Division of Highway Traffic Safety, which reported an drop in reports of illegal cell phone use after the sweep.
New Jersey was one of the first states to ban hand-held cell phone use and text messaging while driving. It also was a leader in prohibiting cell phone use by drivers with permits. In 2007, its existing cell phone driving law was updated to a primary offense, meaning police can stop suspected violators solely for that reason. The texting rules went into effect in March 2008.