From a loud conversation in the back seat to a bold billboard to your ex blowing up your phone, distractions are all around us. Those distractions pose a safety risk for drivers, but in New Jersey, distracted driving is also a crime. Texting and driving is illegal in New Jersey, as is using handheld cell phones while driving. Drivers under 21 can’t legally use a cell phone while driving at all, even if it’s hands-free.
If the police pull you over for driving distracted, New Jersey could fine you up to $800, add points to your driving record, or take your license.
Despite these punishments, distracted drivers still cause hundreds of thousands of accidents in New Jersey every year. Read on for advice about what to do if distracted driving – yours or someone else’s – caused a car accident.
Distracted driving statistics in NJ
Do you always wait until you can pull over to answer a text? In New Jersey, you might be in the minority. Distracted driving is common in The Garden State.
- Distracted driving caused sixty-five percent of car accidents in New Jersey between 2012 and 2016. That’s 200,000 distracted accidents a year!
- Cell phone usage causes around 22 percent of New Jersey’s distracted driver accidents.
- On one survey, 25 percent of teen drivers reported that they always answer text messages while driving.
- The most common distraction for New Jersey drivers isn’t a cell phone at all – it’s daydreaming and other cognitive (mental) distractions.
Don't risk it.
Exceptions to New Jersey distracted driving laws
There are a few situations where it’s safer to make a handheld phone call. The New Jersey legislature makes an exception for those. You can use a handheld cell phone while driving in New Jersey if you need to call 911 during an emergency, or if you believe someone’s going to commit a crime against you or another driver.
For example, if another driver is gesturing angrily and swerving at you on the highway, it would be legal for you to call 911 for help. Similarly, you could legally call 911 while driving to report a fire.
It’s also legal to text while you’re stopped at a red light in New Jersey.
Can I sue a distracted driver?
In a word: yes. In New Jersey, a distracted driver is liable for causing a crash. If they harm you or your property during a car accident, you could sue them. If they’re insured, their liability coverage will pay for some of your medical costs and property repairs or replacement. However, liability coverage usually has a limit. If the accident left you with a huge hospital bill, the need to replace your car or ongoing costs like medication or therapy, you might choose to sue the distracted driver for compensation.
What if my accident was caused by a distracted driver?
If someone else’s distracted driving caused a crash with your car in New Jersey, they are usually at fault. Their liability insurance should cover some accident-related costs, and you could sue for more.
If you caused a car accident because you were distracted, the opposite is true. Your liability insurance should pay for the property and medical costs your accident incurred on others. If your policy has collision coverage, it’ll kick in to pay for repairs to your car. Depending on the severity of the accident, you might face a criminal charge like reckless driving. If someone died in the accident, you could even be charged with vehicular homicide.
Can texting and driving raise my insurance premium?
Yes, texting and driving can raise your car insurance premium.
If you use your insurance’s safe driver app to get a discount, your insurer may know the first time you text and drive. The more you text while driving, the lower your safe driving score…and the smaller your discount.
Without a safe driver app, your insurer won’t know right away if you text and drive. New Jersey doesn’t add points to your driving record for the first or second time the police write you up for distracted driving. If you get caught a third time, though, the state will add three points to your driving record. More points on your driving record will push your premium higher. On average, a third distracted driving offense will raise your premium by 23 percent, which comes to about $370 a year.
If the police charge you with a moving violation connected to distracted driving, or if you cause a car accident because you were distracted, your insurer will find out. More severe charges will result in higher premiums.
If higher premiums aren’t enough to make you shudder, maybe the thought of crashing your car is. Distracted driving can have a lot of consequences. If a text just can’t wait, find somewhere safe to stop before you answer. And, if you see someone else texting or driving recklessly while you’re on the road, pull over and dial #77. The number will direct you to the New Jersey #77 Dangerous Driver System, where you can report non-emergency risky driving to the police.