A new bill on distracted driving in New Jersey (A4461) is currently being sponsored in the Assembly by its Transportation Committee chairman John Wiisniewski would expand the current law beyond handheld devices.
In addition, it would ban "any activity unrelated to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of the vehicle on a public road or highway." The law does not get any more specific than that, instead leaving it up to the police to decide whether there has been a violation.
Police Spokesman Seeks Guidelines
But is the law too vague? Does it leave too much up to the individual judgment of the police officer stopping the vehicle? Pennsville Police Chief Allen Cummings expressed concern that other forms of distracted driving (besides the use of a handheld device) could cause problems on the road, the most dangerous activity still remains texting.
As he stated recently to a reporter with the South Jersey Times, "it would be better for the bill to include specific violations - or at least guidelines to follow - rather than leave the decision completely in officer's hands.
Another Sees Expansion of Scope as a Good Thing
Mike Kellenyi, founder of People Against Distracted Driving (PADD.org) and the father of Nikki Kellenyi, who was killed in an auto accident last year caused by a distracted driver, disagrees. He states,
it does not matter that the police are not given definite terms as to what is distracted driving. When you get your license only one rule must be followed: drive responsibly. Taking your eyes or your mind off the road is no different than Russian roulette. You will never know when the chamber is loaded or who it’s pointed at.
On the other hand, he does agree that the wording needs to be tightened up a bit.
"I do agree that the bill is vague, if police want to abuse the system to pull people over that would be a sin. I think it needs a little tweaking. Maybe adding some language that could prevent an officer from pulling someone over for just the action, there must be a reaction caused by the distraction like swerving or drifting."
But Critics Say It Goes Too Far
Critics of the bill have said that it goes too far. In an editorial published in the Trenton Times, Steve Carrellas, New Jersey representative of the National Motorists Association, says the bill is far too ambiguous.
I can’t adjust the radio anymore? I can’t change the CD? I can’t look at a map? This is a whole set of undefined behavior that someone could perform in the car that could be considered not driving.
Wow! Looking at a map, changing a CD, or adjusting the radio can well take your eyes off the road and your attention away from your driving. If you need a map, then use a GPS with turn by turn directions you can listen to.
So Where Does That Leave Us?
I agree with the concept that this law should require some proof that the alleged activity resulted in distracted driving; it should not be entirely up to the police. On the other hand, the law should not be confined to the use of handheld devices.
If you are looking into a mirror to put on your make-up, you are not paying attention to the road. If you are eating a sandwich while driving, you do not have both hands on the wheel.
This law should go forward, but as Mike Kellenyi observes, it should be "tweaked" to avoid the vagueness. Then maybe there will be fewer tragedies on the road.
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