Could Cellphone Use While Driving Become as Reviled as DWI in New Jersey?

We’ve discussed this topic before, but an editorial earlier this year got us thinking a bit more on the potential for future “Phoning-while-driving” (PWD, perhaps?) legislation. Some may laugh, but stranger things have happened in the name of traffic safety. While we understand the potential dangers of distracted driving, could things get so bad that New Jersey lawmakers might decide to stiffen the penalties for drivers who use their cell phones on the road? To the point of equating talking on the phone with that of intoxicated driving?

As New Jersey DWI defense attorneys, I and my colleagues have represented dozens upon dozens of individuals over the years for all manner of alleged offenses, not the least of which is driving under the influence and even drug DUI. Many of these accused motorists believed they were innocent of the charges. And while some may have been guilty, each and every one of them deserved the opportunity to have his or her day in court.

Over the past few years, cell phone usage has given rise to public concern over the relative safety of traffic when a driver may be distracted by a phone conversation. Texting while driving is already prohibited here in the Garden State, as well as in 36 other states across the nation. Although some might feel that the dangers of cellphone and smartphone use are overblown, editorials like the one we encountered can lead to those in power considering the need for legislation to protect the masses.

Responding to U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood’s call for an outright ban on cellphone use by drivers, the author of this particular editorial feels that a federally-mandated ban on cellphone use while driving is a step in the right direction. It may or may not be, but the result could be penalties similar to drunken driving if proponents can draw the necessary comparisons between phones, alcohol and prescription drugs.

Based on news articles, LaHood’s call for an overarching texting-while-driving ban would essentially outlaw any kind of cellphone use on any roadway, anywhere in the country. The author of the editorial goes on the write that even with anti-texting legislation in more than half the country, these laws – as currently written – aren’t doing enough to reduce the effect of cellphone usage by American drivers. Epidemic was the term used to describe the problem.

The author argues that a nationwide ban on all cellphone/smartphone use by drivers is what is needed to stem the dangers presented by distractions while driving. It was also suggested that we need stiff penalties that would “strike fear” into the hearts and minds of motorists who are even the least bit tempted into using their phones to talk or text while they are operating a motor vehicle.

Backing up the comparison to driving while intoxicated, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has stated that about 3,000 individuals die in fatal car crashes annually, each related in some way to distracted driving. According to the NHTSA, phoning while driving can cause a delay in driver reaction time similar to that of a motorist with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent.

With texting-related fines currently costing $130 per citation, the author suggests that raising the stakes to that of DWI would make a lot of people think twice before calling from behind the wheel. We might agree. With future “PWD” penalties upward of $1,000 in fines, possible loss of one’s driver’s license, additional points, and potential jail time, we would all probably think better of answering or making a call from the driver’s seat in the future.

Federal ban on cell phone use while driving the right move, NJ.com, April 27, 2012