2004-07-01 / Front Page

New Jersey cell phone law takes effect today

Use of hand-held phone
in motor vehicle will be
a secondary offense
BY ANNIKA MENGISEN
Correspondent

New Jersey cell phone
law takes effect today
Use of hand-held phone
in motor vehicle will be
a secondary offense
BY ANNIKA MENGISEN
Correspondent

Today, New Jersey will become the second state in the nation (New York was the first) to require motorists to hang up their hand-held cell phones and talk "hands free" while driving.

New Jersey’s law makes the use of hand-held cell phones a secondary offense, meaning that a motorist can only be cited for the offense if he has been stopped by a police officer for another moving violation. The penalty for using a hand-held cell phone ranges from $100 to $250, but no points will be assessed to the driver’s motor vehicle record.

In New York, the use of a hand-held cell phone is a primary offense for which a motorist may be stopped.

The New Jersey law does not make it illegal for a driver to take his hands off the steering wheel to dial a hands-free phone. The state law banning the use of hand-held cell phones by the operator of a motor vehicle replaces a patchwork of cell phone ban ordinances in a number of New Jersey municipalities.

Marlboro, Englishtown and Carteret are three of about a dozen towns in New Jersey that have cell phone laws, said Marlboro Councilman Barry Denkensohn.

Marlboro was the first municipality in New Jersey to prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones by the operators of motor vehicles. The ban has been in effect since March 2001 and is a primary offense, meaning a police officer can stop a motorist for that specific violation.

"It’s the thing I’m most proud of having accomplished," said Denkensohn. "I think it’s very important."

The new state law that takes effect July 1 will override Marlboro’s ordinance and all of the other towns’ individual cell phone laws and make the use of hand-held cell phones in a motor vehicle a secondary offense for the entire state.

Denkensohn said the cell phone bans have been criticized in the past because there was a patchwork of Garden State towns with different ordinances. He believes the individual towns passing laws put pressure on the Legislature to enact a statewide law.

"Without all of these towns passing these laws, I don’t think the Legislature would have acted," he said.

Denkensohn said it had been his hope that New Jersey would be the first state to pass the law. He is pleased there is a state law on such an important issue, but believes it should go further.

"I’m extremely disappointed with the nature of the state law that has been passed, making the (violation) a secondary offense," the councilman said. "It really is a ban with no teeth in it."

Denkensohn said he will continue to work to make the violation a primary offense on the state level.

"It’s an important safety problem that the country is going through," he said. "My intentions never were to be a government person to regulate people’s behavior. It was always my intention to save lives."

"In today’s society, we must legislate because there are people who do not take personal responsibility for their own safety and that of others. We do not pass laws to punish responsible people; we pass laws to protect ourselves from irresponsible ones," Denkensohn said in his testimony before the New Jersey State Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.

According to a press release, AAA did not support the legislation in New Jersey and cautions motorists against assuming that hands-free phones are safer than hand-held phones.

"Hands-free phones are not risk-free," said Pam Fischer, vice president of public affairs for the AAA New Jersey Automobile Club, Florham Park. "Research shows that it’s conversation, not the device, that causes the distraction."

According to Denkensohn, at least 24 countries restrict or prohibit cell phones and other wireless technology in motor vehicles. Portugal, Israel, Japan and Singapore prohibit all mobile phones while driving.


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