We’ve already seen it happen just across the Hudson: That failed attempt by local government to control individual choice, namely Mayor Bloomberg’s effort to limit the size of soft drinks dispensed at local eateries and restaurants in New York City. That legislation ran up against stiff resistance, yet could something similar and more costly in terms of potential penalties affect drivers here in the Garden State? For those who aren’t worried about such things it may be time to consider the potential impact of a ban on eating while driving.
Based on news reports, legislation is making its way through the state legislature that could end up banning in-vehicle eating or almost any other activity deemed by police to interfere with a driver’s safe and proper operation of his or her motor vehicle. To some, this may sounds like a long shot, but never underestimate the power of New Jersey’s legislators to put laws into effect that can cost motorists a pretty penny down the road.
As experienced DWI defense attorneys, my colleagues and I have been defending individuals accused of drinking and driving for years. We know that many people who lose their DWI or drug DUI cases find that penalties following a conviction for impaired driving are much more than just a slap on the wrist. In fact, with human nature being what it is, additional impaired driving laws could easily result in increased traffic violations in the future, not to mention increased courtroom traffic for the numerous legal cases it could spawn.
According to news reports, the bill recently passed by the New Jersey Assembly attempts to stiffen the Garden State’s current distracted driving laws. Authored by Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the resulting law would require drivers to pay a fine if they are found guilty of “any activity not related to the safe operation of the vehicle.” If convicted in the future, motorists accused of distracted driving would face harsher penalties; essentially the same as those individuals who are found guilty of texting while driving.
If the bill, which must still make it through the state senate, becomes law drivers could soon be cited for operating a motor vehicle while snacking, reading or applying makeup. What are the odds of this new legislation becoming law? It is hard to say for certain; however, considering that the bill easily passed review by the Assembly’s transportation committee, garnering 12 votes to zero, according to news articles on the subject.
The costs could make a cheap trip past your local fast food drive-through window a much more costly activity if a police officer decides that your McDonald’s burger was interfering with your ability to control your car or truck. In fact, it has been stated that motorists who are busted for snaking while driving would face a fine ranging from $200 to $400 on a first offense; this is similar to someone using a hand-held cell phone while driving.
And remember that the legislation as it is currently written considers every activity that a driver might perform while behind the wheel — other than actually driving his or her vehicle — a potentially dangerous exploit deserving punishment. From eating to smoking or reading to rubbernecking while driving, there could be expensive lessons in store for many Garden State motorists if the bill becomes law.
One of the complaints levied by opponents of this legislation is that the bill leaves it up to the arresting patrolman to decide what is or is not an action that may be interfering with a driver’s primary task. Will people be pulled over for apparently adjusting the station on their car radios? Could changing a music CD or grabbing a map from one’s glove compartment be grounds for a hefty fine in the future?
The New Jersey National Motorists Association has concerns regarding the future law. Representatives from the association have reportedly said that there is a whole set of undefined activities that could be considered non-driving behaviors in the future. For now, the bill must still go through the State Senate before it has a chance at becoming the latest impaired driving law. Until then enjoy your burgers and fries, but enjoy them safely if you’re piloting a car or truck on public roads.
New Jersey bill would ban snacking while driving, other activities; NYDailyNews.com; November 27, 2013