New Jersey Democrats are pushing a wide-ranging distracted driving bill that would lead to harsh penalties for motorists, but does it mean cupholders will soon be outlawed in the Garden State?
The answer: probably not, but the bill would give law enforcement the blanket regulation they need to lay a charge for anything from eating behind the wheel to fixing your hair.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) sponsored the bill seven months ago, but it still hasn’t come up for a vote. The backlash to the proposed legislation has been fierce, he told the Associated Press, with media stories and residents all claiming that the bill amounts to a ban on drinking coffee.
“It was the ‘ham sandwich bill’ last time,” he told AP. “Now it’s coffee.”
New Jersey already has laws that ban texting while driving and mandate hands-free calling, but the new bill adds other potentially distracting activities to the mix. Drivers would face a $200 to $400 fine for the first offence, with penalties rising by 200-dollar increments for the second and third offence. Keep it up, and motorists could stand to lose points and face a 90-day license suspension.
Now, back to the coffee. Taking away a motorist’s morning coffee would be akin to removing stars from the flag, but the bill is vague on that point. Wisniewski recently told News12 that the bill would broaden the definition of distracted driving to include eating, grooming, and reading documents. With such a bill in place, the state wouldn’t have to update their laws every time a new technology crops up.
“The more you do other things while you’re driving, the less attention you’re paying to the road,” Wisniewski told the station. “And the less attention you’re paying to the road, the more likely that you’ll have an accident.”
Does that mean combing one’s hair with one hand or eating a breakfast burrito counts as distracted driving? Or worse — sipping coffee? Wisniewski wants to leave that judgement call to law enforcement officers.
According to AP, Wisniewski said that “he cannot imagine that a police officer would pull anyone over for drinking coffee.” That leaves the possibility that an officer could pull someone over for drinking coffee, though a media-fueled backlash would likely ensue.
Most people agree that eating soup, cereal or a burger with both hands (while driving with your knee) is dangerous. If passed, it’s likely law enforcement would look the other way if a motorist has their eyes on the road and one hand on the wheel.
Likely, not not certain.