Do you have a cellphone? Do you have a driver’s license? Have you ever been behind the wheel of your car when you made or received a cellphone call, or read or wrote a text message?
I’m willing to bet that no one who is reading this note is innocent of this crime, this writer included, and when you did so, you not only broke the law, but you put yourself, and others, in danger. Effective March 1, 2008, New Jersey law made using a hand-held communications device a primary offense. Authorities may issue a $100 fine to any driver caught violating this law, although no points are issued to the license. Although it is discouraged, drivers may use a hands-free device if it does not interfere with standard safety equipment. “Use” of a wireless phone and any other hand-held communication device includes, but is not limited to, talking or listening to another person, texting, or sending and receiving electronic messages.
The cellphone and the automobile are a dangerous combination, no less dangerous than the combination of alcohol and automobiles, or drugs and automobiles, and represent a real-life Pandora’s Box, or perhaps, more accurately, an excellent example of the law of unintended consequences. If you’re as old as I am, you drove for years before there was ever such a thing as a mobile phone. When mobile telephones (we didn’t call them ‘cellphones’ at first) became available, we rushed out and had them installed in our cars. I vividly remember my first car phone, which was a large box of electronics installed in the trunk of my car, with wires and cables snaking their way forward to the large unit which was permanently mounted to the dashboard of my car. An antenna sprouted from the rear window or front windshield, identifying the vehicle as one equipped with the latest and greatest in civilian communications equipment, at a cost of thousands of dollars. Using that equipment wasn’t cheap, either, and mobile phone bills routinely ran as high as $500 a month. I also remember when one of my partners, who was always an early adopter, obtained a ‘real’ mobile phone which was portable, and not bolted to the frame of a car. If you’ve ever watched a World War II war movie and viewed soldiers talking on ‘walkie talkies’, you’ll know what this early mobile phone looked like. Those of us who didn’t have one were green with envy.
Fast forward to the present: Cellphones are part of the fabric of our lives, and they fit into our vest pockets. (As if any of us still wear a vest!) They are not ‘just’ phones, either. These technological wonders offer internet access, applications that will perform a bewildering number of tasks, top-quality cameras, and a host of other features too numerous to list. Everyone has at least one, including our children, and it is difficult to imagine how we lived without them. Attempt to separate us from our phone, and you’re met with stiff resistance. Every public gathering, including court sessions, begins with an exhortation to “Please turn off your cell phones!” Look how difficult it is for a movie theater to get its customers to turn them off, just for the duration of a feature film. Who would expect us to ignore our phones while we’re driving our cars?
Statistics are now demonstrating that cellphone usage while driving constitutes ‘distracted driving’, which has the same potential for harm as drunk driving. Conscientious citizens, who would never consider getting behind the wheel after having a drink or two, don’t hesitate to use their phone while driving. Who hasn’t resorted to using the slow lane to pass a car in the fast lane, only to see the driver chatting away on their cellphone, oblivious to the fact that they are traveling well below the posted speed limit, and backing up traffic? Texting while driving may be an even more dangerous activity than talking on the phone while driving, because texting requires the texting party to take their eyes off the road, in order to view their miniature keyboard.
Make a resolution that you will obey the law, and you will not talk or text while driving your car, for the sake of the safety of everyone.
John Sakson is a Shareholder and Co-Managing Direcotr of Stark & Stark’s in the firm’s Lawrenceville, New Jersey office, specializing in Accident & Personal Injury Law. For more information, please contact Mr. Sakson.