Cell phone tickets on the rise in NJ

April 8, 2008 5:02:17 PM PDT
Chatty drivers expecting a grace period in the state's new cell phone ban are not having any luck. Tickets for using a cell phone behind the wheel increased tenfold after the state toughened its ban last month, when it made talking or text messaging on a handheld device reason enough to get pulled over. The citation comes with a $100 fine.

Citations went from about 1,300 in February to almost 13,000 in March, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts, which oversees court statistics. By comparison, state courts had recorded 16,000 tickets issued for the offense in the 12 months leading up to March.

Last month, drivers in northern New Jersey's Bergen County alone saw more than 2,600 citations - twice as many tickets as the entire state the month before.

"It takes a while to break people's habits," said Capt. Al Della Fave of the New Jersey state police. "We need more time."

Della Fave compared the new statute to the stricter seat belt law passed in 2000, noting the gradual increase in drivers buckling up since then.

Pam Fischer, director of New Jersey's Division of Highway Traffic Safety, agreed that full compliance would take time to catch up with the new cell phone law.

"The message is out there. People are telling their friends you can actually get a ticket for this," Fischer said. "There's always that group of people that's not going to do it until they have to."

Driving while using a hand-held cell phone has been illegal in New Jersey since 2004, when the state became the second in the nation to pass a ban. However, it was considered a secondary offense - something drivers could be ticketed for if they were pulled over for another reason.