States consider raising fines for distracted driving
Growing concern over the continued use of cellphones by drivers has some states reviewing laws against the practice and exploring stiffer fines and harsher penalties.
A 2010 study by the Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, found that current texting bans are not reducing the risk or amount of crashes. But some question whether tougher punishment is the answer.
Justin McNaull, director of state relations for auto club AAA, says seat belt studies show that when states impose higher fines, more motorists obey the laws.
But Gary Biller, president of the National Motorists Association, a drivers' rights group, says steeper fines won't change drivers' behavior. "It's more productive to treat distracted driving as a driver education problem," Biller says.
In New Jersey, the state Senate Law and Public Safety Committee approved a measure this month that would increase fines for handheld cellphone use, including texting, from $100 to $200 for the first offense. Offenders could have their driver's license suspended for 90 days for the third and ensuing violations. The bill will next be heard by the Senate Budget Committee. Elsewhere:
•The California Senate approved a bill in May that would cost drivers caught texting or talking without a hands-free device $30 for a first offense - a $10 increase - and $60 for a subsequent offense, up from $50. The bill goes next to the Assembly.
•Connecticut last year increased fines for using handheld cellphones and text messaging while driving, from the previous $100 to $125 for the first offense, $150 to $250 for the second, and $200 to $400 for the third and subsequent violations.
New Jersey state Sen. Dick Codey, a Democrat and primary sponsor of the measure to increase fines in that state, likens distracted-driving prevention to the drunken-driving campaign that began decades ago.
"Our goal is to have people stop injuring each other," he says. "Before, it was a slap on the wrist. What people need is a slap on the face."