Will Distracted Drivers Join Ranks of Drunken Drivers in New Jersey Courtrooms

Although we ourselves, do not rely a crystal ball to tell us what will happen in the legal world, there certainly has been a fair amount of discussion by safety experts and legislators regarding the dangers of distracted driving. One could say that this conversation has been taking on the tone of anti-drunken driving proponents several decades ago.

As New Jersey DWI defense attorneys, my firm has decades of collective experience in representing motorists accused of drunk driving, drug DUI (prescription meds and illegal substances, such as marijuana and meth), breath-test refusal and other impaired driving offenses. It goes without saying that anyone convicted of DWI or drug DUI will likely face stiff monetary penalties, insurance surcharges and even jail time; even for first-time offenders, license suspension is not beyond the realm of possibility.

As we have mentioned previously in this forum, driving while distracted could possibly become the DWI of the 21st Century. With the number of injuries and deaths mounting from accidents involving texting on cellphones and ever-expanding smartphone use while driving, it would not be surprising to see some state legislatures push hard for in-vehicle cell- and smartphone bans.

Just recently, another news article has been published warning of the dangers (and we can only project, the future criminalization of driving distracted. The author of that news item talks about never drinking and driving, but speeding down the interstate while talking on his cell? Of course.

As the author himself says, there’s apparently not much difference between driving drunk and talking on one’s cellphone while operating a motor vehicle; not from the standpoint of traffic safety, that is. In fact, according to this report, some experts say that motorists who use cellphones on the road are just as likely to have an accident as driver who drive under the influence of alcohol.

So, talking and driving is the same as DWI, right? Not exactly, because current traffic law allows people to talk on a phone while operating their vehicle; although a handful of states, such as New Jersey, require hands-free phones to be used in order to comply with local laws. And now, almost three-quarters of states in the U.S. prohibit texting while driving.

But before everyone goes out and gets themselves a Bluetooth headset and voice activated dialing, be aware that based on some research, using a hands-free device while driving might be even more dangerous than the standard handheld devices. Why? Because the hands-free units apparently give some drivers a false feeling of safety while at the same time actually causing them to continue to be distracted from the main job of operating a car or truck in traffic.

Based on studies, cellphone-related distractions result in about 2,600 traffic fatalities annually. This is one of the pieces of data that likely influenced that National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to make its now-famous recommendation that cellphone use by drivers be made illegal across the board in the U.S.

And while even the staunchest supporters of a nationwide ban say that it will never be accepted — think of prohibition in the early 20th Century — others say it can and should be done. Although some call an in-car cellphone ban a political nonstarter, that “cold day in hell,’ could come sooner than many might believe.

As the author of the article points out, there was similar concern over acceptance of a ban on drinking and driving, yet here we are defending individuals for DWI and DUI. So get ready, in the future we may all have to include a designated caller in the car with us if we want to stay in touch with the outside world while traveling in our cars. And, what does this say about having conversations with a spouse or friend while driving? Time, as always, will tell.

Distracted is the new drunk, Philly.com, February 9, 2012