SOMERVILLE, N.J. – Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey D. Soriano and North Plainfield Chief of Police William Parenti, representing the Somerset County Association of Chiefs of Police, remind drivers that the enhanced penalties for talking and/or texting on a handheld device while driving are scheduled to take effect July 1.
Municipal and county law enforcement agencies throughout Somerset County will be adding patrols to focus enforcement attention on offenders.
Prosecutor Soriano states that, for the last decade, drivers who were convicted of improperly using a wireless telephone or electronic communication device while driving were fined $100.00.
Under the statutory amendment in effect on July 1, the fines and penalties increase significantly for first, second and subsequent convictions.
The new law increases the fine to an amount not less than $200 or more than $400 for a first offense, not less than $400 or more than $600 for a second offense, and not less than $600 or more than $800 for third or subsequent offenses.
In addition, for a third or subsequent violation, the court may order the person to forfeit the right to operate a motor vehicle over the highways of this State for a period of 90 days.
The law also provides that a person convicted of a third or subsequent violation shall be assessed three motor vehicle penalty points.
The new law also requires that one-half of the fines collected are to be paid to the State Treasurer for allocation to the Motor Vehicle Commission for use in developing a public education program, which must include information on the dangers of texting while driving.
In 2011, Somerset County launched the “Put It Down” campaign, an initiative put forth by the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, the Somerset County Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset.
The campaign has continued, and has involved community groups and high schools throughout Somerset County. "With its Put It Down initiative, Somerset County has been at the forefront of the fight against distracted driving since for some time now”, says Prosecutor Soriano. “We’d like to believe that those who drive through this county have been forewarned and that this new legislation is confirmation that driving in a distracted manner is as bad—if not worse—than driving while intoxicated.”
Chief Parenti states that on July 9 and July 18, the added patrols throughout Somerset County will be focusing on distracted drivers, and offenders who are issued a summons will be subjected to the new penalties.
The anti-distracted driving targeted enforcement campaign will continue throughout this year on alternating dates each month.