In-car Cellphone Use…the Newest Version of Driving While Intoxicated in New Jersey?

Back in the early- to mid-20th Century, drinking and driving was at best looked at as a potential for embarrassing run-ins with the police; or something to laugh at in a motion picture comedy. At worst, it could land a person in the “drunk tank” for a day or two so that one could sober up. Of course, no one was saying that DWI wasn’t a real problem — and many times a deadly one, at that, but it wasn’t as stigmatized as it had become in the ’80s and ’90s, and especially these days. Who knows for certain; maybe society was more accepting of the happy-go-lucky drunk, and even husbands or fathers who came come home plastered were more than likely given a pass due to the “pressures” of their work-a-day lives.

Fast forward to the 21st Century, and we have a different situation. People still drink, just as they have in the past, but tolerance for drinking and driving has more or less evaporated — at least from the standpoint of police agencies and the judicial system. Coming home to one’s family at 4am drunk is also on the outs as more and more people treat achoholism as a failing instead of a disease one cannot control.

But drunken driving isn’t the issue here, today. What we are wondering, as New Jeresy DWI defense attorneys, is how soon might we see legislation that rasies driving while distracted (DWD) at chargeable offense. Of course, that’s already happening in many states with passage of anti-texting and hand-free phone laws. Truly, with all the efforts afoot to make driving while intoxicated a thing of the past, is DWD legislation not far behind? Maybe yes, maybe no; but certainly, a possibility.

According to the news outlets around the country, driving while distracted will be a hot topic in the coming years. Just as DWI and drug DUI, many traffic safety advocates and law makers are looking very carefully at the impact that cellphones have had and will have on the frequency and severity of automobile accidents.

Even locally, here in the Garden State, cellphone and smart phone use while driving has been described as an activity that is “out of control” in counties like Passaic, Bergen and Monmouth. It’s no surprise that many people around the state likely support the latest recommendation coming from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to establish a nationwide ban on in-car cell use.

Many believe that a ban is the next step, especially following 2007 New Jersey state legislation, signed by Governor Corzine, making talking on a handheld cell phone or texting a message with any electronic communication device while driving primary offense. As New Jersey drunken driving defense attorneys, I and my colleagues could imagine a time when cellphone use becomes banned and driving while distracted becomes a chargeable offense not unlike our current DWI and DUI laws.

With the NTSB citing the more than 3,000 fatalities in 2011 having resulted from distracted driving, it is not a stretch to imagine a national campaign to ban cellphone use and attempt to reverse almost two decades of learned behavior. At the very least, this will lead to some rather heated debates in the coming years.

Police departments support proposal to ban cell use while driving, NorthJersey.com, December 16, 2011