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Driving Home the Dangers of Distracted Driving

New Jersey takes distracted driving very seriously

We should all be aware of the dangers of texting while driving. The National Highway Safety Administration reports that in 2015, 391,000 injuries and nearly 3,500 deaths in the U.S. involved distracted drivers. Distracted driving can include any number of activities, including eating, fiddling with the stereo or navigation system, putting on makeup, or talking or texting/posting on social media on a cellphone while driving—anything that takes the driver’s attention from the task of driving.

If you have any lingering doubts about your own need to put the phone away when you get behind the wheel, consider that reading or sending a single text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that’s like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.

Texting While Driving

In an effort to curb these behaviors and increase safety for all on the road, most states have enacted distracted driving laws and are stepping up enforcement. Fourteen states have banned all hand-held cellphone use by drivers, including New Jersey. In 2017, New Jersey upped its efforts to restrict phone-related distracted driving by announcing the relaunch of its #77 hotline, originally intended to receive reports of drunk or reckless drivers, to report texting drivers. Those who are reported will receive a written notice in the mail stating that they were observed sending text messages while driving, and notifying them of penalties if pulled over. (Drivers who report other drivers are admonished to pull over before making their report, have someone else in the car send the message, or use a hands-free option.)

New Jersey already had a stringent anti-handheld device law on the books, banning all handheld electronic device use while driving. Hands-free technology is permitted. Penalties for a first offense include a fine of $200 to $400. For a second offense, the fine is $400 to $600. For the third offense, penalties increase to a $600 to $800 fine, points on your driving record, and a 90-day suspension of your driver’s license. As a primary offense, you don’t need to have committed any other driving error, you can be cited for phone use alone. If your handheld device use is found to have caused an accident, you may face felony charges, jail time, and up to a $10,000 fine. An accident resulting in death can mean five to 10 years in jail and as much as $150,000 in fines, not including the cost of civil liability.

In addition to the handheld ban on all drivers, those driving under a learner’s permit, drivers under 21 and school bus drivers are banned from using any form of cellphone or device, handheld or otherwise.

Sleep-Deprived Driving

New Jersey was also the first state to take steps to address another threat to road safety, a condition dubbed “drowsy driving.” Studies and highway safety statistics have long demonstrated that driving in a state of extreme fatigue has parallels to drunk driving. National Institutes of Health research found that not sleeping for 20 hours or more causes cognitive and motor impairments comparable to a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent to 0.1 percent. The precise impact of drowsy driving is difficult to measure, but estimates are that fatigue contributes to as many as 1.2 million crashes per year.

In 2002, New Jersey enacted “Maggie’s Law,” making driving while fatigued a basis of negligent homicide if a driver caused a fatality after going 24 hours or more without sleep. Fatigue may also be used to demonstrate negligence in civil actions arising from accidents that resulted in injuries.

While many believe that enacting criminal penalties for sleep-deprived driving will help to raise awareness and fuel prevention efforts, prosecution remains somewhat limited, due to virtually insurmountable proof issues. The driver is typically the only one to know how long they’ve been awake, and unlike a blood alcohol test for drinking, there is no way to test someone’s level of fatigue.

You can take steps to prevent drowsy driving by recognizing the risk. The National Sleep Foundation states that fatigue-related accidents are most common in young men, adults with small children, and shift workers. Warning signs that you are too drowsy to drive include:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Heavy eyelids, frequent yawning
  • Drifting from your lane
  • Memory lapses, missed road signs or exits
  • Feeling restless or irritable

If you need more information about distracted or drowsy driving defense, contact a New Jersey DUI attorney. If you’re considering initiating a civil claim arising from a distracted or drowsy driving accident, contact a New Jersey personal injury attorney. If you’d like more general information about this area of the law, see our DUI/DWI law overview.

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