WEST ORANGE, NJ - In case West Orange and other New Jersey residents are not aware, a new amended Cell Phone Safety motor vehicle law took effect on July 1, 2014. Under New Jersey Traffic Laws Title 39, 39:4-97.3, enhanced penalties are now the law if you use a handheld phone while driving in the state of New Jersey. The amended law does not even allow -- except in an extreme emergency -- use of any hand-held device in a motor vehicle even while stopped in traffic or at a traffic signal.
In 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 416,000 people were injured and 3,092 people were killed in 2010 due to distracted driving, and the greatest risk appears to be from texting and driving. Texting while driving puts the driver, their passengers, pedestrians, and other vehicles on the road at risk.
In an effort to continue its crackdown on distracted driving, the state has implemented these new requirements:
1. Fines for talking and texting on hand-held wireless communications devices will increase. A first time offender will face a minimum fine of $200.
2. A second offense will yield a minimum fine of $400.
3. A third-time offense will yield a minimum fine of $600, a possible 90-day driver's license suspension, and three motor vehicle penalty points.
According to the New Jersey State Motor Vehicle Commission website: "Although it is discouraged, drivers may use a hands-free device if it does not interfere with standard safety equipment. “Use” of a wireless phone and any other hand-held communication device includes, but is not limited to, talking or listening to another person, texting, or sending and receiving electronic messages."
It continues: "A hand-held phone may be used for an emergency only and the driver must keep one hand on the wheel at all times."
The Nikhil Badlani Foundation of West Orange, established to honor the memory of Sangeeta and Sunil Badlani's son Nikhil, who was killed in a motor vehicle accident involving a distracted driver on June 11, 2011, has worked tirelessly to bring awareness to distracted driving.
Legislation called "Nikhil's Law" is currently on the road to reality that would amend NJ Driver Manuals. The organization has also spearheaded distracted driving art campaigns on NJ Transit buses and stations and provided reflective strips for stop signs around town, particularly in areas around West Orange High School.
Said Sangeeta Badlani, "We are happy to see that NJ has finally passed a law that will deter people from using a handheld phone while driving. Our STOP For Nikhil Safety pledge includes "Talk Safe: I will use a hands-free cell phone system while driving, and will not text or use a handset unless I pull over." as one of the safety measures. We encourage drivers to go online and take our safety pledge to make our roads safer."