Driving Home the Dangers of Distracted Driving

New Jersey takes distracted driving very seriously

By Judy Malmon, J.D. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on July 6, 2023

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According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were over 3,100 fatal crashes involving distracted drivers in 2020 and over 3,500 in 2021. And there are thousands of non-fatal car crashes resulting from distracted driving every year.

Distracted driving is anything that takes the driver’s attention away from the task of driving, whether it’s adjusting the navigation system or using a cell phone app to post on social media.

And it doesn’t take long for driver distraction to have a big impact. The NHTSA estimates that reading or sending a single text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that’s the same as driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.

New Jersey Laws Against Texting While Driving

To crack down on these dangerous driving behaviors and increase road safety, 26 states have banned all hand-held cell phone use by drivers. New Jersey is one of those states.

In 2017, New Jersey upped its efforts to restrict phone-related distracted driving by announcing the relaunch of its #77 hotline. Originally limited to reports of drunk or aggressive driving, it can now receive reports of drivers sending text messages or engaging in any other dangerous driving.

Drivers who are reported will receive a written notice in the mail stating that they were observed texting while driving and notifying them of penalties if pulled over.

Note that motorists who report other drivers are admonished to either pull over before making their report, have someone else in the car send the message, or use a hands-free option.

Penalties for Distracted Driving in New Jersey

New Jersey has a stringent anti-handheld device law on the books that bans all handheld electronic device use while driving. As a primary offense, you don’t need to have committed any other driving error—you can be cited for hand-held cellphone use alone. 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 minimum, points on your driving record, and a 90-day suspension of your driver’s license.

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

Drivers who have gone without sleep for 20 hours or more risk cognitive and motor impairments comparable to a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent to 0.1 percent.

In response to these driving dangers, New Jersey lawmakers enacted “Maggie’s Law” in 2002, becoming the first state with a law against drowsy driving. The law establishes an inference of reckless driving if:

  • The driver fell asleep at the wheel; or
  • Drove after a period in excess of 24 hours without sleep.

If fatigued reckless driving results in a fatality, the driver can be charged with vehicular homicide.

The effectiveness of criminal penalties for fighting sleep-deprived driving is limited by the challenges of proving such charges. The driver is typically the only one to know how long they’ve been awake, and there’s no test to measure someone’s level of fatigue.

You can take steps to prevent drowsy driving by recognizing the risk. Warning signs that you are too drowsy to drive include:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Drifting from your lane
  • Memory lapses
  • Feeling restless or irritable

Find an Experienced New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney

If you’re facing criminal charges for a driving-related incident, get in touch with a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer who specializes in traffic violations. If alcohol was involved, use the Super Lawyers directory to look for a DUI/DWI attorney.

An experienced defense attorney will understand your state laws, court procedures, and potential penalties and be able to give sound legal advice for your specific situation.

If you or a loved one was the victim of a car crash involving reckless or distracted driving and you’re thinking about pursuing a lawsuit, consider contacting a New Jersey personal injury attorney.

For more information about this legal area, see our overview of traffic violations law.

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