Bill would increase penalties for driving while using cell phone

TRENTON – Using a hand-held device while driving could result in your license being suspended, under a new bill.

The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee will take up a bill, A1080, that would increase the fine and impose a license suspension for talking or texting on a hand-held device while driving.

Currently, drivers are fined $100 if stopped by police for using a cell phone or other hand-held electronic device.

If A1080 goes through, the penalty would increase to $200, $400 for a second offense, and $600 for third or subsequent offenses.

The bill states the court could impose a 90-day driver’s license suspension if a person is convicted three or more times and the offender could also receive three motor vehicle penalty points.

The bill comes even as the number of tickets issued for using hand-held cell phones while driving has seen a downward trend in recent years. According to the Administrative Office of the Courts, there have been 81,323 tickets issued so far this year, between January and November. In 2011 there were 90,709 tickets issued, well below the 111,392 tickerts issued for that violation in 2010.

Assemblywoman Grace Spencer (D-28), of Newark, said the bill makes sense because the current penalty isn’t enough of a deterrent, or even all that punitive.

“The penalty doesn’t seem to match the harm that could occur,” she said in a phone interview.

She added that she has seen some people who’ve committed the offense three or four times. Currently, successive penalities carry the same $100 fine.

Spencer said she has received little criticism, adding that constituents and police officers have been supportive of the proposal.

She said the only suggestions came from the League of Municipalities, which called for having a greater portion of the ticket revenue by kept by municipalities. The bulk of the revenue, as for most motor vehicle violations, goes to state coffers.

The hearing will start at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Bill would increase penalties for driving while using cell phone