New Jersey Distracted Driving

A Guide to New Jersey's Distracted Driving Laws

(It's more than just not texting.)

Distracted Driving Laws

There are more than 250,000 car accidents every year in New Jersey. And most of these are simple distracted driving mistakes that are completely preventable.

That’s why arguably THE most important thing you can do behind the wheel is keep your hands at 10 and 2 and your eyes on the road. Always.

What Is Distracted Driving?

The state of New Jersey defines distracted driving as “any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger, and bystander safety.”

Most people think only about cell phones when it comes to distracted driving, but there's really a lot more to the puzzle than this, even though that is the biggest concern on most states' radars. 

But really there are several other common distractions that, though legal, should be avoided as much as possible. These include:

  • Eating and drinking
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a GPS or other navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting the radio or A/C
  • Even having conversations with passengers

Distracted Driving Statistics in New Jersey

You don’t have to follow the local news every night to know that distracted driving is a problem, but here are a few statistics that might help you understand just how serious it is in New Jersey:

  • Cell phone usage is responsible for about 22% of all distracted driving accidents in New Jersey.
  • The most common distraction in this state is cognitive distractions such as daydreaming.
  • Between 2012 and 2016, more than 800,000 accidents in New Jersey could be attributed to distract driving.  That’s about 65% of all accidents in this state.
  • Approximately 25% of teens have admitted that they always respond to text messages while they are driving.

Number of Accidents Caused by Cell Phone Usage in New Jersey

While handheld cellphone use appears to be as dangerous as hands-free, keep in mind that handheld use is illegal in this state and therefore less common. If handhelds were used at the same rate as hands-free, the number of accidents in the handheld column would be much higher.

Does New Jersey Have Laws against Distracted Driving?

Yes.

New Jersey currently prohibits:

  • Text messaging and use of video games
  • The use of handheld cell phones and other portable communication devices
  • School bus drivers from using a cell phone, even in hands-free mode, while driving.
  • Drivers under the age of 21 and older drivers who currently hold a learner’s permit from using cell phones, texting devices, and other portable communication devices – even if in hands-free mode.

Are There Any Exceptions to New Jersey's Distracted Driving Laws?

Yes.

New Jersey makes exceptions to its distracted driving laws when:T

the driver has reason to believe their life or safety are in danger

  • The driver has reason to believe that a criminal act may be perpetrated against them or another person.
  • The driver is using the device to report to appropriate authorities:
    • a fire
    • a traffic accident
    • a serious road hazard
    • a medical or hazardous material emergency
    • another driver who is driving in a reckless, careless, or otherwise unsafe manner
    • another driver who appears to be driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol

The state of New Jersey encourages motorists to report hazardous driving by others, including those who are using their cell phones in an illegal manner. When possible, the state recommends pulling over and stopping your car first, and then dialing #77 to report the driver.

New Jersey Distracted Driving Laws at a Glance


            Yes            No
Is texting while driving legal?
                X               
Can you send/receive texts at a red light?                X               
Is handheld device use permitted?                               X
Any special restriction for young drivers?               X                
Is headphone/headset use permitted?               X               

Is It Legal to Eat a Cheeseburger While Driving in New Jersey?

Yes. But that doesn't mean you should.

Distracted driving comes in many forms, and eating a cheeseburger can be just as distracting as talking on a cell phone. 

So, what happens if a police officer in New Jersey sees you eating a cheeseburger while driving down the highway? In most cases, nothing. There's no law that says you can't eat while driving in this state.

But even legal distractions (like eating or adjusting the radio) can significantly increase your risk of being in an accident or driving erratically, so it's better to avoid as many distractions as possible. Otherwise, you might find yourself looking at a citation.

Unless you're really in a hurry, you’re better off eating your Big Mac indoors or in the parking lot.

What's the Difference between Primary and Secondary Enforcement of Distracted Driving Laws?

Primary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can pull you over if they see you violating state distracted driving laws.  

Secondary enforcement of distracted driving laws means the police can cite you for violating distracted driving laws only if you break another law while doing so.

New Jersey uses primary enforcement.

This means that even if you're in total control of your vehicle while using your cell phone, a police officer who witnesses you doing so can pull you over and write up a citation.  And in this state, it’s going to cost you.

What's the Fine for Distracted Driving in New Jersey?

The penalties for a distracted driving citation in New Jersey are some of the highest in the country and you can expect:

  • For a first offense: $200 to $400
  • For a second offense: $400 to $600
  • For a third or subsequent offense: $600 to $800, plus three points on your driving record and the possibility of a 90-day license suspension
  • For public transportation drivers: Convicted drivers can face up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

If you cause an accident that results in injuries or fatalities while violating the distracted driving law, you can also be looking at a reckless driving conviction or even vehicular homicide charges.

New Jersey compared to the rest of the US on texting and driving restrictions

States that have laws against texting and driving

Every state in the US has a law that prohibits some sort of cell phone usage except Montana and Arizona; however, in 2021, Arizona will roll out new cell phone restriction laws, leaving Montana the last in line.

Does Distracted Driving in New Jersey Increase Insurance Rates?

That depends.

In New Jersey, points aren't added against your driving record for a first or second distracted driving citation, so there's a chance your insurance company won't even know about it. But if you commit another moving violation or cause an accident while driving distracted, your insurance company will find out.

Because reporting of distracted driving in this state typically comes from a third conviction or a moving violation, it's little wonder that insurance rates spike dramatically. 

In fact, New Jersey residents see their car insurance go up an average of $370 a year following a distracted driving citation. That’s significantly higher than the national average increase of $220.

And if you have a safe driver discount, you can say goodbye to that. Distracted driving will almost certainly disqualify you from receiving this discount, and this can cause your rate increase to be even more painful.

What If I Drive into Another State?

Distracted driving laws vary by state, and when you cross that state line you are required to follow their laws. Claiming ignorance of the law will not get you out of a citation, so be sure to check on the current laws for any states you may be traveling through before you take your next road trip.

Of course, given New Jersey’s tough distracted driving laws, you should already be used to acting in a manner that is legal in all states.

What's New Jersey Doing To Prevent Distracted Driving?

Because of its strict laws and high fines, New Jersey is known as one of the toughest states in the country when it comes to distracted driving. State lawmakers understand the risks that cellphone distractions can cause and have put legislation in place to curb it as much as possible.

This state extends its no-nonsense approach to its #77 program.  It's one of the few places in the country where law enforcement officers openly encourage people to report distracted and aggressive driving to them.

The intention behind this is to make sure that those who violate driving laws know that they are being watched and monitored in the hopes that they will drive on their best behavior.

So What Can You Do?

Quite simply, just put the phone away — even if that means in the glove compartment. The fines themselves are definitely not worth it, let alone the more serious consequences to you and others on the road. Let’s all just get where we’re going safely and save the texting until you get home.

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https://www.state.nj.us/transportation/refdata/accident/pdf/TotalCrashRecordsbyCounty.pdf

https://www.state.nj.us/transportation/refdata/accident/pdf/cellphone.pdf

https://www.nj.gov/oag/hts/downloads/DD_Facts_Stats.pdf

https://www.nj.gov/oag/hts/phone_down_overview.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/tripping/wp/2017/06/10/new-jersey-wants-you-to-call-77-if-you-see-someone-texting-and-driving-but-pull-over-first/