As of July 1, it will be illegal to drive while talking on a handheld cell phone in New Jersey, according to the legislation Gov. James E. McGreevey signed on Jan. 20.
Use of a handheld cell phone will be a secondary violation, meaning a driver can only be penalized for it if pulled over for something else, like speeding.
The offense carries no points, although fines range from $100-$250.
New Jersey, along with New York, is the second state in the US to implement such a law. New York’s law is also more strict, as handheld cell phones are a primary violation there.
The law does not apply to calls made for safety reasons or to cell phones used with headsets, whose owners are still allowed to dial, answer and turn on their phones.
Legislators see the law as a way to reduce the number of accidents caused by driver distraction, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration holds responsible for 25 percent of crashes, as reported in The Star-Ledger.
“It makes sense because it’s safe,” Sadia Rashid, junior marketing major, said. “But I don’t think anyone, including myself, will stop talking on a cell phone because it’s a secondary violation.”
Critics of the law share Rashid’s view, arguing that people confident in their driving ability while talking on the phone probably will not change their habits knowing an officer cannot pull them over for having just one hand on the wheel.
Pam Fischer, the spokeswoman for the AAA New Jersey Automobile Club, consequently does not think the law targets the real problem of driver inattention
“It’s not the device, but it’s the conversation that’s the problem,” she told The Daily Record.
A study by the University of North Carolina reported on CNN.com reveals that on the list of top driving distractions, cell phones are #8, affecting only 30 percent of drivers.
Reaching and leaning, occurring among 97.1 percent of drivers, and fiddling with the radio, among 91.4 percent, are the two most common.
Lt. Don Rizzo of Campus Police said he thinks it would be more effective to improve how people are taught to drive and to send licensed drivers updates with safety tips.
Operating a vehicle while conversing on the phone is a skill that takes practice, as police officers know from talking on the radios in their cars, and should not be taken lightly by drivers, Rizzo said.
“People have to realize that when they are driving they are operating a machine that weighs two to four thousand pounds and that’s their primary responsibility,” Rizzo said.
Contrary to what drivers may think, Rizzo said it is not difficult to spot those distracted by a handheld cell phone.
“We’ll be looking for association between erratic driving and talking on cell phones,” Rizzo said.
Rizzo hopes that outlawing handheld cell phone use while driving will ultimately create a “learning curve.”
“I think the intent is to get people to realize that you can pull over someplace and make a call, or let the (incoming) call go and return it later,” he said.
Scott Sadowsky, freshman history/education major, said he does not feel a need to talk on the phone while driving. “When it comes to responsible driving,” Sadowsky said, “I don’t think that they should have to make something that’s common sense a law.”