Distracted drivers are all too common and a menace to fellow drivers and pedestrians walking along and crossing streets. New Jersey Assemblymen John Wisniewski, Nicholas Chiaravalloti and Patrick Diegnan are co-sponsoring a proposal that would specifically target drivers engaged in “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.”
There are many reasons this type of proposal should be taken seriously. Consider the following statistics:
- According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,179 people were killed and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers in 2014.
- A 2015 Erie Insurance survey found drivers do many things behind the wheel other than drive, including brushing their teeth and changing clothes. A third of survey respondents admitted to texting while driving, and three-quarters of them said they’ve seen others do it.
- Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. If you are traveling at 55 mph, that’s enough time to travel the length of a football field.
If enacted, their new bill could result in heavy fines for drivers eating, drinking or doing anything unrelated to driving while in control of their vehicle, reports NBC News. A first-time offense could result in a $400 fine; a third offense could be a $800 fine plus a 90-day license suspension and points on the driving record. As it now stands, only texting and using a handheld cellphone while driving are specifically banned under existing New Jersey statutes.
Wisniewski said he’s particularly concerned about things like texting and drivers reading maps or newspapers while driving. But eating and drinking can also be distracting and could be covered if the bill is signed into law. “The issue is that we need to try, in every way, to discourage distracted driving. It’s dangerous,” Wisniewski is quoted as saying in the Newark Star-Ledger.
According to NBC News, the United Kingdom has more laws covering distracted driving than we do in the U.S.
- Research by Britain’s Brunel University found that when a driver handles food it can cause an attention overload and double the risk of an accident.
- K. police have been pulling over and ticketing motorists for drinking and eating for years, but law enforcement hasn’t stopped the public’s habit of having meals while driving. One survey found about half of U.K. drivers admitting to eating or drinking while driving.
- K. drivers caught distracted by food or drink could see their insurance premiums increase by up to 40%.
The New Jersey co-sponsors say their proposal is meant more to educate drivers than to punish them, but there is opposition to the bill. Critics claim there are other statutes that could be used to fine or arrest drivers found to be distracted to the point of unsafe driving, such as crossing a line.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured by a distracted driver in New Jersey, schedule a free consultation with our office by calling us at (973) 358-6134 or by using our online quick connect form. Statutes of limitations apply, so contact us as soon as possible so you can learn about your legal rights and take action to protect your interests.