SOMERSET COUNTY, NJ - The Somerset County Prosecutor's Office and the Somerset County Association of Chiefs of Police announced that enhanced penalties for talking and/or texting on a handheld device while driving are taking effect Tuesday, according to a release.
According to the release, municipal and county law enforcement agencies throughout the county will be adding patrols to focus attention on offenders throughout the county.
Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano said in a release that, for the last decade, drivers convicted of improperly using a wireless telephone or electronic communication device while driving were fined $100. As of Tuesday, fines and penalties are increasing for first, second and subsequent convictions.
According to the new law, Soriano said, the fine was increased 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, Soriano said, on the third or subsequent offense, the court can order the person to forfeit the right to operate a motor vehicle over the highways in New Jersey for 90 days. The driver wil also be issued three motor vehicle penalty points.
The release says that the new law also requires that one-half of the fines collected should be paid to the State Treasurer for allocation to the Motor Vehicle Commission for developing a public education program that will include information on the dangers of texting while driving.
Somerset County previously launched the "Put It Down" campaign in 2011 through the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office, the Somerset County Association of Chiefs of Police and the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset.
"With its Put It Down initiative, Somerset County has been at the forefront of the fight against distracted driving since for some time now," Soriano said in the release. "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."
On July 9 and July 18, added patrols throughout Somerset County will be focusing on distracted drivers, with the penalities officially in place.
The enforcement campaign will continue throughout the year on alternating dates each month.