New Jersey

New Jersey Bill Would Punish Eating, Drinking While Driving

Laws against texting while driving have been shown to be ineffective. So why is this a good idea?


Frankieleon / Flickr

When it comes to driver safety, New Jersey goes further than most states with its laws. Like many places, Garden State legislators have banned texting while driving. Unlike most places, they also prohibit drivers from pumping their own gas to keep them from hurting themselves. Now lawmakers are considering a bill that, if passed, could punish drivers for drinking, eating, or doing anything behind the wheel that isn't driving.

The bill would address what it describes as "the increasing problem of distracted driving." It calls for punishing drivers who do "any activity unrelated to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of the vehicle on public road or highway" and imposes three levels of fines depending on the number of times the driver has previously been cited for distracted driving. People who are pulled over for a third offense may get their driver's licenses revoked.

The bill does not define what actions count as distracted driving, which leaves the law's interpretation up to police officers. And though—as Larry Higgs of noted—it seems unlikely that people will start getting pulled over for just taking a sip of coffee, the law is so incredibly broad that one can't rule out the possibility of things like that happening.

As Ron Blitzer of LawNewz pointed out, the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety has a list of activities the state considers distracting for drivers. This includes tuning a radio, applying makeup, attending to children, and eating. The agency doesn't require that the driver be acting as a danger to others—just that the action could conceivably cause him to become distracted.

But are these kinds of laws effective at preventing accidents and injury? A 2010 study from the Highway Loss Data Institute found laws banning texting behind the wheel failed to reduce the number of crashes, with some states even seeing a subsequent increase in crash rates. A 2014 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health likewise found that the rate of serious car accidents in Michigan went up slightly following that state's 2010 ban on texting while driving.

This has not stopped New Jersey lawmakers from trying to make this bill a law. "I've seen people reading the newspaper driving their cars," said one of the co-sponsors, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D–Middlesex), to News 12 New Jersey. "The more you do other things while you're driving, the less you are paying attention to the road. The less attention you are paying to the road, the more likelihood that you'll have an accident."

It's hard to deny that distracted driving can be dangerous, but some are already calling the legislation out for going too far. "This proposed distracted driving law is not needed, since three statutes can be used when a distraction causes unsafe actions, like swerving or crossing a line," Steve Carrellas, the policy and government affairs director for the National Motorists Association in New Jersey, told Tracy Noble, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, added that the legislation would be difficult for police officers to enforce.

Wisniewski responded by telling the Associated Press the bill is needed to avoid having to draft additional legislation every time new technology is introduced.

An almost identical 2013 bill (also introduced by Wisniewski) was approved in committee but never made it to a full vote.

NEXT: Trump Mocks Media Reaction to ISIS Comments, 'Heroin Babies' Cause Panic, How the Olympics Chill Speech: A.M. Links

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Good think Fatso has a driver. I assume, anyway….

  2. “Laws against texting while driving have been shown to be ineffective. So why is this a good idea?”

    Bc they give the state more excuses and opportunities to extract money from us?

    1. Every stop means potential revenue from a ticket, not to mention an opportunity to search the car for cash, drugs, and other contraband, which generates even more revenue.

      It’s all about the money. Public safety is merely an excuse.

      1. CHILDRENZ!!!

      2. Don’t forget the rare occasion to plug someone reaching for their license.

      3. No it’s not. Talk to any pol on the left, they don’t care about money. They all assume that government coffers are bottomless.

        It’s all about control and showing who is boss. They desire to extract money not because they think they need the money, but because it is a way to control, dominate, humiliate.

        1. And you are absolutely correct, on both counts. Money grows on government tree farms, everyone has to pay their “fair share” to fertilize the shit out of it, and dissidents should be sent to mandatory re-education.

          Get with the program, mother fuckers.

  3. The Garden State should be renamed “there oughta be a law so we made one” State.

  4. What about eating behind the wheel while they pump my gas? Or will they expect the attendant to report me to the police?

    1. Driving while chewing gum violation.

  5. The attendant will be required to hand feed you, of course.

  6. What a clownish, paternalistic state.

    And terrible drivers too.

    1. Bing. Wish they’d put half this effort into making their road signs comprehensible. Swear that north of a certain line, there’s an old 1950’s civil defense projct in place, hoping to get invading Red armes hopelessly lost.

      1. This is actually true. If you don’t already have a good idea of where you’re going, the signs will just get you lost.

        1. I flew to New Jersey with a coworker on business for a few days about 15 years ago. We only had to drive a few miles from the airport, but we got thoroughly lost on the way, and again on the way back to the airport a few days later. It was all due to the extremely confusing road signs. That is the only place I’ve ever been where signs for turns are placed *after* the intersections to which they refer. We assumed that it was just that area’s signs that didn’t make sense, but it sounds like it’s a more widespread problem.

  7. Tracy Noble, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, added that the legislation would be difficult for police officers to enforce.

    Unless you’re a poor.

    1. They would have to go undercover or set up sting operations.

      Nice way to use limited resources.

      Busting people for drinking coffee in their cars in fucking peace.

      1. New York claims their state troopers ride around looking in car windows for people on their cell phones. I have been pulled over a few times for that, either by state police or town police.

  8. I live in NJ.

    This is going to ‘Make our roads safe again!’

  9. BTW, they should also ban kids in cars. Because it is terribly distracting when there are kids in the car.

    Ban driving will also reduce the number of car accidents. We need to consider that next.

    1. And listening to music.

    2. This^, especially those under ten.

      *I just finished a three week stint with the four grand-critters (all under 10) visiting the farmstead for summer vacation, even twenty minute drives to the beach were excrutiating.

  10. band together and make NJ against the law!!!

  11. the legislation would be difficult for police officers to enforce.

    Nonsense. The police will use their discretion and focus on implementing the good intentions of the lawmakers.

    1. Most likely they will park in the median and proceed to not enforce this law the way they don’t bother to enforce the texting law.

      Should you blow past them doing 85 in a 55, they will pull you over and issue you this ticket in lieu of the speeding ticket with the agreement that you’ll just pay it so neither of you will have to bother going to court.

  12. “I observed the driver of the vehicle closely, and it was obvious to me he was solving math problems in his head instead of concentrating on his driving. When I pulled him over and searched the vehicle, I found the marijuana.”

  13. The folks pushing back against this ought to get Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, McD’s etc. to help out. If they ban drinking coffee while driving, there are going to be an awful lot of takeout windows orders lost – and I doubt they will be replaced by people who stop and go it to get their fix.

    1. There’s a diner on my commute that went out of business shortly after a Starbucks opened up next door. I be the they’re behind it.

      Lousy Greeks. /spit

      1. Upon reading the article, it seems that my twat former Assemblyman is the culprit. Completely unsurprising; Wisniewski a douche, personally and professionally.

        1. Twat former.

          Prerequisite for Assemblyman or learned on the job?

          1. The former.

            That’s a bad sentence, it doesn’t really make sense. How about: “my formerly assemblyman, that twat, is the culprit.”

            1. Oh, I understood the sentence; just couldn’t pass up the chance to ask the question.

    2. Actually, since self-service gas is illegal in NJ, you should absolutely expect them to now outlaw drive-thru windows and all takeout food. All food in NJ must be dispensed by a trained and licensed food delivery person who transports said food to you in a building, not a vehicle, lest the offender be labeled a felon and be incarcerated based on mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

      Seriously, that’s not a stretch for NJ. I, unfortunately, have to live in this backwards state.

      1. When the minimum wage is raised to $15, fast-food service robots will make these concerns obsolete.

        1. Don’t worry, as a lifelong resident of NJ, I can assure you that the Democrats in the legislature will make it illegal to replace workers with service robots.

  14. No more jacking and driving?!

    1. Only if you eat it off your hand after you are done.

      1. Or if a passenger is performing the action. Road hummers are also kosher.

  15. How about they ban being an asshole while driving? That’ll generate some serious “revenue” in NJ.

    1. If they really wanted to juice revenue they would start pulling people over for camping out in the passing lane. That’s a fucking epidemic here.

      1. Jesus Christ, yeah. And it is most often someone with either PA or NY plates.

  16. I have a question for Reason readers:

    Has reason done much reporting/documentary about the ‘unseen’ results of government?

    i.e. showing the real people who can’t get a job because of minimum wage and poor government education systems.

    I have seen plenty of documentaries that shows how ‘people’ get screwed by capitalism to bring out people’s emotions. I’m wondering if there is any that shows how People get screwed by government.

    1. The idea is not at all popular with most media outlets at this time; the current schtick routine is that capitalism and free markets are bad and government is or should be the answer to all of your problems; and the more they can stick their dick into your life the better off you will be, at least as long as Democrats live at 1800 PA.

      1. Tandem,

        Thanks for the response. I agree, there is absolutely no incentive for most news outlets to demonstrate government policies as negative.

        The prevailing thinking currently is that the government is and can help everyone and everything. (I exaggerated, but it’s in that direction)

        That’s why I thought perhaps Reason could run them. For instance, I remember watching a couple of videos about the failed criminal system that allowed me to see how destructive it was to actual everyday people.

  17. “Wisniewski responded by telling the Associated Press the bill is needed to avoid having to draft additional legislation every time new technology is introduced.”

    Which begs the question: will I be allowed to eat and drink in my self-driving car?

  18. I can see it now instead of cops looking for speeders they will all be lined up outside the McD’s drive up waiting for people to exit.

    1. Cops are going to LOVE this law. They won’t be on break at Dunkin Donuts — they’ll be working, watching the drive thru.

  19. So how many accidents are caused by “distracted driving”, anyway? That would seem to be a relevant thing to know.

    And I know you can’t outlaw being a moron, so what is the better solution?

    1. There is no one who is more distracted while driving than police officers. No one.

      1. I don’t ride in cars very often (New Yawker) but when I do I am often amused and/or terrified at how distracted the driver is. It’s much worse than when I was a kid a few decades ago just because of all the modern gadgets we have now.

  20. We’re just a law or two away from Utopia. I just know it.

  21. Already have this law in British Columbia. In fact, TPTB just recently increased the penalties:

    “Starting on June 1 [2016], a first-time distracted driving ticket in B.C. will cost you $543.

    On Monday, the B.C. Government announced these new penalties, which will be a $368 dollar fine and four demerit points of $175, meaning a total of $543. If you collect more than three points on your driving record in 12 months, ICBC charges you a Driver Penalty Point (DPP) premium.

    A second distracted driving ticket within 12 months will pay $368 [plus the increased ICBC Driver Penalty Point premium of $520], totalling $888 dollars.

    A third offence would cost a driver more than $3,000.”

    As expected, people are still doing other stuff behind the wheel besides driving. Commercial/small business drivers in particular just see the fines as another cost of doing business. I’m sure police departments and/or the government appreciate the increase in ticket revenue, however…

    1. Re your last observation, no doubt.

  22. I live in NJ

    Sucks to be you.

    1. I cannot imagine anything that would make living in New Jersey [I use the term living loosely here] worthwhile; maybe a tenured position at Princeton?

      1. Eh, new jersey has the best local music scene(s) of anywhere I’ve ever been. Eastern mass (Amherst mostly) is another of my favorites, but I never drank vodka out of the handle with teenage girls on the side of the highway. I’ve only ever done that in nj (newton I think)

      2. Eh, new jersey has the best local music scene(s) of anywhere I’ve ever been. Eastern mass (Amherst mostly) is another of my favorites, but I never drank vodka out of the handle with teenage girls on the side of the highway. I’ve only ever done that in nj (newton I think)

  23. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail.


  24. Given the Police State, it’s all for your own good of course, that New Jersey is, does this latest really surprise?

  25. There is one thing I would like to see prohibited: driving with a pet on your lap.
    It just floors me when I see people doing that.

  26. “Distracted Driving” is sort of like a “Hate Crime” in that it can be pretty hard to define objectively.
    Good ol’ classic daydreaming is probably the most widespread cause of distracted driving.
    How do you even begin to determine whether someone was daydreaming?

    I have noticed that every red light takes way longer these days b/c everyone is texting and they notice the light turned green.

  27. Freedom seems to be a foreign concept in NJ – too many Hessians.

  28. They will also have to forbid having more than 2 women in an automobile at any one time. If you watch women talk to one another, they have to look the person they are talking to in the eye. When they are talking to someone sitting in the back seat, the driver actually turns around to look at the person she is talking to. This is definitely distracted driving.

    And, I have to say that I am definitely distracted when I talk to my wife while I am driving. I have to concentrate very hard on what she is saying, and my response has to be calibrated for the subject matter, her mood, and the current climate of our marriage. She also has a disturbing tendency to shout out “Oh, look at that!” and point to a bird of a set of lace curtains, which compells me to look at the object, and then I am definitely distracted.

    Maybe all women should be banned from automobiles – they should have to take public transport.

  29. “A 2014 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health likewise found that the rate of serious car accidents in Michigan went up slightly following that state’s 2010 ban on texting while driving”

    Because instead of just texting back at an opportune time, they try and hide that shit, holding the phone down low so no cop sees them. This means they are looking down instead of just being a slow douche with their nose in their phone at a stop light like they were before they anti texting laws went into effect.

  30. Let me offer an alternative explanation of the NJ ‘can’t fill your own tank’ law……..html#343a6 …

    It can’t be about safety, or else the other states where it’s legal to do so would have passed similar ‘protection’ laws.

    But if you live in a heavily unionized state where a law like that would distort the workplace market by forcing companies to hire workers and thus either cut their profits or create additional costs that must be passed on to the consumer “at the pump,” so to speak… then an ‘attendant must pump the gas’ merely means just that:

    Hire people that aren’t needed and cost consumers a ‘hidden tax’ to pay for the largess …
    Or, of course, as I’ve wondered for years, just an admission that NJ citizens are too stupid or incompetent to pump their own gas.

    Embarrassing either way.
    Oh, and I grew up in NJ and lived there 33 years, never getting to pump my own gas and constantly puzzling over ‘why not?’

    Then I drove across the US five times and saw how other states handled this “dangerous problem” by not addressing it at all.


  31. The purpose of the law isn’t public safety. The purpose of the law is to give police officers yet another excuse to profile motorists.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.