Bill to hike cell phone penalties for motorists released

TRENTON – The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee released a bill that would significantly increase penalties for motorists who would drive while talking or texting on a mobile device.

Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, (D-20), of Union, said the bill was drawn up because she believes the current $100 fine is not serving as a sufficient deterrent, adding she still sees many drivers swerving into another person’s lane.  

“The message isn’t sinking in,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who you are… everyone is doing it. It’s one of these issues that we could really end if they would just not text while driving.”

Quijano said some 3,200 accidents last year were caused by accidents incurred by driving while on the cell phone.

Assemblyman Charles Mainor said it’s “a great bill” and “hopes the message will be sent.”

It’s a misdemeanor offense, and puts people on probation, said Dan Phelps said of the Administrative Office of the Courts. He suggested putting points on for a first offense, saying that otherwise it’s just another monetary penalty. By assessing points, Phelps said it will make the bill more remedial.

“Right now, the penalties are backloaded,” he said. “This offense needs to be upgraded. People simply don’t care about $100.”

But Mainor said he’s concerned it would lead to more people driving without auto insurance, since points would cause the motorist’s premiums to skyrocket.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15) of Trenton, also called it “very good legislation.”

“A hundred dollars means nothing,” she said.

But Assemblyman Sean Kean, a prosecutor, disagreed.

“It’s big bucks to a lot of hardworking people,” he said.

However, he said he’d be “reluctant to front end the bill” with the points violation.

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—GQ