Penalties Now Higher in N.J. for Distracted Drivers Involved in Crashes While Using Hand-Held Cell Phones

Drivers in New Jersey should be forewarned – a new rule just signed into law adds operating a motor vehicle while using a hand-held cell phone to the list of contributing factors that can lead to criminal charges of reckless driving if you are involved in a vehicle accident.

The new legislation “toughens penalties against drivers who kill or injure someone while the driver is using a hand-held cell phone,” according to a story in The (Bergen County, N.J.) Record. “The new law allows prosecutors to charge distracted drivers with vehicular homicide if they kill someone or injure someone with an automobile. It is the first time drivers can be criminally charged for texting or talking on a hand-held phone.”

In New Jersey, the law is known as the “Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis’ Law” to honor the victims of three distracted-driving crashes, including one who died along with her unborn child in crashes in the state, the paper reported.

A distracted driver is typing a text message on a cell phone and doesn't have his eyes on the road in this simulated image. Image credit: ©

One of the victims, Helen Kulesh, 89, died after being struck by a vehicle as she walked to a local grocery store in 2006, the paper reported. The driver of the vehicle was distracted while using a cell phone.

The other two victims named in the new law are David and Linda Kubert, who each lost a leg and were seriously injured when the motorcycle they were traveling on was struck by a vehicle being driven by a cell phone-distracted driver in 2009, according to The Record.

The other woman honored by the law was Toni Donato-Bolis, who died in June 2011 when she was struck by a vehicle operated by a driver who was texting, the paper reported. Her unborn baby also died in the crash.

Before the new law was enacted, factors such as distraction by cell phone use or texting weren’t included as infractions that could result in charges of reckless driving in the state. Under the new law, such factors can now be used to charge drivers with reckless driving, which updates existing laws with new realities.

“If a reckless driver kills someone, prosecutors can bring vehicular homicide charges,” according to The Record. “That crime is punishable by imprisonment of five to 10 years, a fine of up to $150,000, or both. Similarly, a reckless driver who injures someone can be brought up on assault by automobile charges. Assault by auto that results in serious injury is punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.”

New Jersey already has a ban on the use of hand-held cell phones and a ban on texting by drivers. Delaware also bands hand-held cell phone use and texting by drivers, while Pennsylvania still allows drivers to operate a motor vehicle while using a hand-held cell phone. Drivers in Pennsylvania, however, are forbidden from texting while driving under a ban that was finally enacted this past March.

The Governors Highway Safety Association maintains a state-by-state list of cell phone and texting laws across the nation so you can check the laws in states where you might travel.

Driving while texting or using a hand-held cell phone is dangerous and in many states, either activity is against the law.

The best way to use a cell phone while driving is to use a hands-free device to dial, speak and hear, or to not use it until you have stopped driving.

There is never a safe time to text while driving.

Driving is already often dangerous enough with so many vehicles on our busy roads and so many other distractions.

Be safe out there on the roadways and please use good common sense to prevent these kinds of distracted driving-related tragedies.