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Cell phone use while driving: New Jersey seeks tougher penalties

Lawmakers in Trenton are trying to make it easier to prosecute drivers whose hand-held cell phone use resulted in injuries or death. The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee unanimously voted in favor of advancing the bill toward passage into law. The purpose of the legislation is to deter cell phone use while driving and effectively prevent car accidents.

The Senate panel heard statements from people whose loved ones died because of other people's distracted driving. One woman's sister and unborn nephew were killed by a driver who was using his cell phone at the time of the accident. Addressing the committee, the surviving sister told how she sees people of all ages driving and texting, and that they "continue to do it because there's nothing that's going to happen to them for doing it."

A senator from Middlesex agreed, saying that too many New Jersey residents use their cell phones while driving, failing to understand how dangerous it is.

The new bill is meant to give prosecutors a better chance of obtaining a conviction for vehicular manslaughter or assault. In cases in which a person has illegally used a cell phone while driving and caused personal injury or death, the at-fault driver can be regarded as reckless, according to the new legislation. The distinction of recklessness is the basis for the criminal charges.

People in the Moorestown area who have been injured or lost a loved one because of another driver's cell phone use will want to keep a close eye on the bill. In addition to criminal charges, family members of victims may also elect to pursue a wrongful death claim based on the designation of reckless driving.

Source: nj.com, "N.J. bill aimed to make it easier to convict someone using cell phone in car accident advances," Christopher Baxter, May 14, 2012

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