NJ Weighs Big Fines for Distracted Drivers (but Coffee Is Likely Safe)

Bill generates a lot of attention
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 8, 2016 3:24 PM CDT
Distracted driving was blamed for 400,000 accidents and 3,000 deaths in 2014.   (C.b. Schmelter/The Jackson Sun via AP)

(Newser) – A New Jersey lawmaker wants to slap stiff fines on motorists guilty of distracted driving, which his bill defines as "any activity unrelated to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of the vehicle." A story at NJ.com translates that to mean anyone caught drinking, eating, grooming, or reading an e-device, which in turn has led to a spate of stories suggesting that coffee will soon be outlawed in cars across the state. Not so much, reports the AP. Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski says his bill never mentions the beverage, adding that he'd be stunned if police pulled over a driver just for taking a morning sip. "It was the 'ham sandwich bill' last time," he says, referring to a previous iteration of the bill. "Now it's coffee."

Still, he says he's serious about distracted driving, which was blamed for 400,000 accidents and 3,000 deaths in 2014, ABC7 reports. First-time offenders risk being slapped with a fine of up to $400—and $800 for a subsequent breach, plus a 90-day license suspension. Some critics say the legislation, inspired by a similar bill in Maine, goes too far. Steve Carrellas of the state National Motorists Association chapter told NJ.com that existing laws already cover “unsafe actions, like swerving or crossing a line.” He added, "Would [the bill] make changing the radio station or adjusting the volume illegal?" There's time to figure all that out: The measure has yet to come up for a vote even in committee. (A new report calls attention to drowsy drivers.)

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