NJ proposal: Make cellphone use illegal even for stopped drivers
New Jersey's law against the use of handheld phones behind the wheel currently permits you to send text messages and talk on a phone in your hand while you're sitting in traffic or at a red light.
But that permission would go out the driver-side window, if legislation advanced by a Senate committee were ever to become law.
The measure sponsored by state Sen. Richard Codey, D-Essex, "makes it a violation for motorists to talk or text on hand-held wireless devices" while one's vehicle is "temporarily stopped because of traffic, a traffic light, a stop sign, or otherwise."
Under the bill, violators would be subject to the same penalties currently in place for motorists who use a handheld phone while actively driving — fines ranging from $200 to $400 for a first offense, and from $400 to $600 for a second offense. Those found to be in violation for at least a third time could lose their license for three months and pay a fine of up to $800.
Gloucester County resident Mike Kellenyi, whose daughter Nikki was killed in 2012 while in the backseat of a car driven by distracted driver, said "it's terrible" that current state law permits usage of handheld devices at a stop sign or red light.
Most people, he suggested, fail to put the phone down when the traffic light eventually turns green or it's their turn to move ahead.
"If they scrap that (law), it'll save thousands of lives over the next couple years, and people won't have to live our nightmare," Kellenyi told New Jersey 101.5.
Nikki was crushed by a pickup truck when her friend drove through a stop sign while using her phone. A foundation started by Kellenyi in Nikki's name aims to prevent distracted driving through education and public awareness.
Sayreville Police Chief John Zebrowski, 1st vice president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, said despite New Jersey having some of the most stringent laws in this area, the state also allows a "relaxed standard" for drivers who are temporarily stopped.
"Distractions may only be momentary but the consequences can be life-changing," Zebrowski said. "The proposed modification of the current laws is an appropriate measure to ensure our motoring and pedestrian communities are safer."
Codey's bill would not eliminate a driver's opportunity to pull to the side of the road safely to use a handheld phone.
The measure was unanimously approved Tuesday by the Senate Transportation Committee.
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.