A new bill in the state of New Jersey is seeking to ban drivers from snacking, smoking, gawking, in fact, doing just about anything that might distract their attention from the road. Some critics of the proposal, however, think the pitch might be a difficult sell.
State Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) proposed an expansion of New Jersey's ban on the use of hand-held cell phones while driving to include anything that might be considered distracted driving, according to The Star Ledger.
On Monday, New Jersey's Assembly transportation committee voted 12-0 to approve Wisniewski's proposal that came in the form of bill (A4461).
The bill's sweeping language bans drivers from engaging in "any activity unrelated to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of the vehicle on a public road or highway." And as to who decides that a particular activity is interfering with the safe operation of a vehicle? That will be entirely to the discretion of police officers.
"Certainly there's no law against having a video screen installed on your dashboard and watching movies," Wisniewski noted in the report. "All of the examples are ridiculous, except you see them happening, and you read about them having happened."
So like the punishment of chatting on your cell phone while driving, taking your eye off the road to bite that sandwich or gulp that drink of water while driving will could soon cost you $200 in New Jersey for a first offense.
It increases to a fine of $400 to $600 the second time around and $600 to $800 for a third strike. Any offense after that books you a meeting with a judge who could decide your habitual eating while driving or whatever keeps distracting your attention from the road warrants a suspension of your driver's license.
Steve Carrellas, New Jersey representative of the National Motorists Association, thinks the proposal is too broad and vague.
"I can't adjust the radio anymore? I can't change the CD? I can't look at a map? This is a whole set of undefined behavior that someone could perform in the car that could be considered not driving," he explained.
"It's behavior as opposed to outcome. The behavior can result in a bad outcome, but there's no guarantee that's the case. But what I'll applaud him on is for trying to figure out how to deal with distracted driving," he added.
Wisniewski responded, however: "If you create an offense of distracted driving, it's pretty easy to define what distracted is: not watching the road."
An observational study conducted by Allstate Insurance Company of Canada and cited by the Red River Valley Echo highlighted that eating or drinking while driving is the most frequent distracted-driving offense. Some 25 percent of all observed drivers were simultaneously consuming food or beverages. Talking or texting on the phone while driving was the third most frequent distracted driving offense.