New Jersey lawmakers act to prevent distracted driving

Governor Chris Christie recently signed into law a bill that steps up penalties for drivers in New Jersey who are caught using their handheld cell phones while behind the wheel. Now, if police catch a driver using a cell phone without a hands free device, they can impose a minimum fine of $200 for a first offense, $400 for a second offense and $600 for all subsequent offenses. Under the new law, a judge has the option to suspend a person's driver's license for 90 days if he is convicted of a third offense. This new law is just the latest in an attempt to stop drivers in the state from driving distracted, a practice that is widely regarded as a leading cause of car accidents.

It is no surprise that lawmakers in New Jersey are doing all they can to prevent people from engaging in dangerous behavior while driving. According to a recent survey, distracted driving behaviors are quite common throughout the state.

The survey, conducted by Plymouth Rock Assurance, found that nearly 90 percent of drivers polled said that they had seen other drivers on the road using their cell phones. Other people were not the only problem: five percent of drivers polled admitted that they had browsed the internet while behind the wheel and about two percent said they had read the newspaper while driving. In addition, 12 percent of drivers surveyed said that they had attempted to groom themselves while driving.

The survey, which only involved 1,000 drivers in New Jersey, was not scientific, but it sheds important light on the prevalence of distracted driving behaviors. Long commutes are part of life in New Jersey, but that does not mean that drivers should see their time behind the wheel as an opportunity to multitask.

The New Jersey legislature has made it clear, however, that it is willing to take steps to dissuade drivers from taking their eyes off the road. A new bill has just been proposed that would require drivers involved in a car accident to hand over their cell phone to police, in addition to their driver's license and registration. The law is meant to make those unconcerned with increased fines think twice about picking up their cell phones to talk or text while driving. It is too soon to tell whether Governor Christie is likely to sign the bill, but it would provide yet another tool to help battle the problem of distracted driving.