The topic of “Safe Driving” is important every day, but each year during the holidays the risks are higher. There are more people on the roads traveling, many people are rushing and sometimes tragic motor vehicle accidents occur. One of the largest factors is the emergence of texting while driving and the use of cellular phones without hands-free devices. Not only is texting and the use of a cellular phone without a hands-free device while driving dangerous, but New Jersey has broadened the scope of liability, fines and penalties for such offenses. This is seen through the case of Kubert v. Best, 432 N.J. Super. 495 (App. Div. 2013) and the Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis Law, N.J.S.A. § 2C:12-1(c)(1) (the “Bolis Law”), and the amendments to N.J.S.A. § 39:4-97.3 (Use of wireless telephone, electronic communication device in moving vehicle).
Surprisingly in Kubert, the New Jersey Appellate Division extended texting liability to a person who sends a text to another who is driving if specific requirements are met. The Court held that a sender of a text message can potentially be held liable if an accident is caused by texting and if the sender knew or had special reason to know that the recipient would view the text message while driving (though there was insufficient evidence in this case to hold the texter liable).
The Bolis Law, effective July 8, 2012, explicitly permits a jury to infer that a person who violates N.J.S.A. § 39:4-97.3 is liable for assault by auto, a fourth degree crime, if someone is injured seriously as a result of another using a hand-held device while driving.
N.J.S.A. § 39:4-97.3 was amended on July 1, 2014 to provide stiffer penalties for the use of a cellular device while operating a motor vehicle without a hands-free device. There are exceptions for emergency situations as provided for in the statute. Fines for a first time offense have increased from $100.00. The fines are now as follows:
(1) For a first offense, not less than $200 or more than $400;
(2) For a second offense, not less than $400 or more than $600; and
(3) For a third or subsequent offense, not less than $600 or more than $800.
Additionally, a person who has been convicted of a third or subsequent violation shall be assessed three motor vehicle points, and a court may order that the person forfeit the right to operate a motor vehicle for a period of 90 days in the State of New Jersey.
With this in mind, I ask that you think about safer driving and the use of hands-free devices. You may save yourself considerable exposure to civil liability for motor vehicle accidents, criminal exposure and the loss of your license for a period of time along with motor vehicle points. You also may save a life.