Stronger law against texting behind the wheel proposed in New Jersey

Distracted driving is a serious problem in New Jersey and nationwide. Last year, according to estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 421,000 people were injured in crashes that involved distracted driving.

Laws banning texting and other types of handheld phone use behind the wheel are one way to help prevent distracted driving crashes. In New Jersey, it is illegal to use a handheld phone to talk or text while driving.

However, there is a loophole in the law that one New Jersey lawmaker is seeking to close with a bill introduced in early November.

New measure would explicitly prohibit texting even while temporarily stopped

The new bill, proposed by State Senator Richard Codey, would expand New Jersey's cell phone ban to include handheld mobile device use by drivers who are not in motion. In addition, it would modify the state's written driver's test by including distracted driving questions.

Under current law, when New Jersey drivers are temporarily stopped in traffic - at a stoplight, in a traffic jam or at a stop sign, for example - use of a handheld cell phone is not technically a violation. Yet, even using a handheld cell phone behind the wheel when temporarily stopped can be dangerous; for instance, drivers who glance up from a smartphone screen only to realize they have been sitting at a light that has already turned green often hurriedly speed into the intersection without looking out for other motorists or pedestrians.

Supporters of the bill also hope it would make New Jersey roads safer by helping the state qualify for federal grant funds. In 2012, the Department of Transportation announced grants up to $17.5 million to fight distracted driving, available to states with stringent enough distracted driving laws. Thus far, New Jersey's cellphone laws put the state out of the running for the grant money because they do not criminalize texting while temporarily stopped in traffic.

It is uncertain whether there will be immediate action on the bill in the New Jersey legislature. Senator Codey says he hopes to usher the new bill into law before large enhancements in distracted driving penalties go into effect next summer.

"I'm looking to get this done before July 1 of 2014 so we have a huge campaign underway in New Jersey," Senator Codey told The Star-Ledger.

Those injured by distracted drivers may be compensated whether the law was violated or not

While the law change could serve as another important deterrent to distracted driving, it is important to recognize that even if a motorist was not in violation of New Jersey's current texting while driving law, that motorist (or his or her insurer) can still be held responsible for damages arising out of an accident caused by his or her distraction.

If you have been injured in a car accident caused by distraction, you may have a legal claim against the distracted driver. It is every driver's responsibility to remain alert behind the wheel, focused on the road. Pursuing a legal claim against an irresponsible driver is not only a good way to secure the compensation you deserve, it also incentivizes safe vehicle operation. Talk to a New Jersey car accident lawyer today to learn more about collecting compensation from a negligent driver or his or her insurer.