Distracted Driving Proposal in New Jersey

Here at the state house in Trenton, New Jersey lawmakers are putting their foot down to ensure the safety of those on the road. The hope is to restrict what drivers can and cannot do behind the wheel. Soon enough, it may be illegal to drink your coffee on your drive in to work in the morning!

It may seem like an irrational proposal, but there is major concern that our roads are filled with distracted drivers – eating, putting on makeup, or even worse –taking selfies on the road.

But, the question is how we do determine what’s considered distracted driving???

Cathleen Lewis, Director of Government Affairs, AAA in New Jersey says, "People think that it means ‘I’m holding something, that means I’m distracted’, ‘I’m looking at something I’m distracted’. What we know now is that distraction is actually cognitive and that’s the biggest danger. So the bill that was proposed in the legislature, is the first that really addresses the dangers behind the wheel, as opposed to the dangerous device or technology.”

By cognitive, AAA’s Cathleen Lewis means anything that takes your mind off of driving. Critics of the proposed bill have not been keeping quiet, arguing that the state’s pre-existing driving laws are sufficient. Some are concerned that police officers will misuse the authority granted by this proposal, since distracted driving is subjective.

The Chairman of the Transportation Committee in New Jersey, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, says, “What we’ve seen in addition to a continuation to using cell phones and texting while driving, a proliferation of a variety of activities that defy common sense, but nonetheless go on behind the wheel. I've seen behavior that is just beyond unsafe and the goal beyond the legislation is to create one uniform standard about essentially paying attention behind the wheel. "

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 10% of fatal crashes involve drivers distracted by activities including eating, smoking, adjusting the radio or air-conditioning, or daydreaming. In 2013. In 2014, for the fifth straight year, distracted driving was the top cause of fatal crashes in New Jersey. So why are people still so against this bill passing?

Lewis stated, "I would say that people are against the perception of the bill, not what the actual bill is. If you ask people if they wanted to ban distracted driving, they would say yes. If you asked them if they want to no longer drink coffee they’d say no. I think we need to find a place that allows us to address the behavior. The dangerous behavior without sort of making it overly ambitious.”

I also spoke to Bill Elliot, the Chairman and CEO of the HERO Campaign in New Jersey whose son was killed in a car crash and he said, “We need to do everything we can to pass laws with stiff penalties and jail time for motorists whose irresponsible actions kill and injure thousands”

Wisniewski adds, "What the bill is about is not only making sure that you come home safely at the end of the day, but all of the other people on the road who have absolutely nothing to do with you who may be following the rules to a textbook definition - They’re driving, you’re not paying attention, you injure or worse, those drivers, you’ve affected some other families. You’ve affected other lives because of your actions.”

As of now, legislation doesn’t specify which activities would be banned, so it would be up to police officers to decide whether or not they will penalize you for drinking your morning coffee on the road!

For the full story on Jersey Matters, check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AC7D0J424E

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