A recent change in New Jersey Motor Vehicle Law has prompted me to write this article and advise the public of the potential pitfalls of talking on a cell phone or operating an electronic device while operating a motor vehicle within our state.

The relevant statute, N.J.S.A. 39:4–97.3 has been amended by our Legislature to increase the fines associated with such an offense and, further, provide the Municipal Court with discretion to suspend driving privileges for a period of up to 90 days for a third or subsequent offense.  Further, the revised statute now provides that a third or subsequent offense will also include the imposition of three motor vehicle points.  While the suspension of driving privileges and three motor vehicle points are significant for a three or more time of violator, the increase in fines are also rather significant even for a first offender.  The statute provides that the fine shall be between $200.00 and $400.00 for a first offender; between $400.00 and $600.00 for a second offender; and between $600.00 and $800.00 for a third or subsequent offense.  These penalties have been significantly increased as a result of the change of this statute.

It should be noted that talking on a wireless telephone or using an “electronic communication device” by the operator of a moving vehicle on a public road or highway is a violation of the statute.  This would include utilizing a smart phone for texting, emails, Internet browsing, etc.  Using a “hands-free” device does not violate the statute as long as the placement of the device does not interfere with the operation of the motor vehicle or any equipment within the motor vehicle.  Interestingly, an “amateur radio” is not an “electronic communication device” under the statute.

Finally, you should be aware that you may use a handheld wireless device while operating a motor vehicle as long as one hand is on the steering wheel if you are contacting emergency personnel where you feel that a criminal act is being perpetrated or you are reporting a hazardous road situation. In this instance, however, you will be required to provide cell phone records to establish that the phone call you were on was, in fact being made to emergency personnel.

In conclusion, it would not only be wise to stay off of your cell phone while operating a motor vehicle because of the penalties described above, but also due to fact that utilizing a cell phone, including texting or looking at emails, etc. while operating a motor vehicle could put your life and the lives of others in jeopardy.

Should you have any questions concerning any of the above, please feel free to contact our offices.