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It is Illegal to Text or to Look at Your Cell Phone While Stopped at a Stop Light in New Jersey


Interviewer: What if the person is at a stop-light?

James Abate: Interesting that you say that. Last year there was a bill introduced in New Jersey State Senate and Assembly, to prohibit looking at your cell phone while stopped. A number of the criminal defense bar organizations opposed it because it sounds like something that’s going to give police easy access to giving you a ticket or, to search your car to pull you over.

The bill passed, so it is now illegal in the State of New Jersey to view your text messages or look at your phone while stopped at a stop light. Another thing which that brings out, and I forgot to mention this, a feature of the bill is that it elevates cell-phone tickets to what’s called a primary offense. That means that, if a cop sees you on your cell phone, sees you looking at the phone, sees you watching movies, he can pull you over.

Prior to the New Law being Implemented, A Police Officer had to have Another Reason to Pull a Driver Over

It used to be he had to have another reason to pull you over, and then, if he also saw you with the cell phone, he could write you that ticket. Now, all he’s got to have is suspicion that you were using a cell phone or text messaging while you were driving. One of the things which is going to be interesting is, when I’m defending a cell-phone case, I want to see the cell-phone records, so I can show that person was not on the phone during the encounter.

Defending Cell Phone Ticket Cases will not be Easy as it is Difficult to prove if Phone was Being Used at The Time of Arrest

With text messaging you can show the same thing, but they’re so easily deleted that they’re really not a good source of evidence, because you can’t just open up your phone or your records and say, “Look at what time my text went through.” The same thing happens when you’re using your browser. It doesn’t give you a time-frame. They are going to be somewhat difficult to defend.

The Texting Driver is a Bigger Menace on the Road than the Drunk Driver

Interviewer: Driving around, during day time mostly, if you see someone swerving or driving recklessly on the road and you pass them up, it’s mostly someone who’s texting. Do you agree?

James Abate: I’ll tell you what I think about that. The scourge of the texting driver is that, first of all, the drunk is actually safer because you know that, although he sees three sets of road in front of him, he’s trying to stay on the one in the middle, and he’s trying to control his car. He’s trying to be safe, he’s just physically and mentally incapable of it. The texting driver isn’t even watching the road, so he’s not even trying to control the car. Another thing is, drunk drivers tend to be out when people are drinking, so if they’re going to get into an accident, they’re going to get into an accident with someone else who’s out that time of night.

Drunk Drivers are mostly on the Road at Night but the Texting Driver is Mostly on the Road during Rush Hour

The texting driver it’s any time of day, its rush hour, and it’s just something which Law enforcement is going to have to buckle down on. I know I’m saying a lot of derogatory things about the texting driver, but certainly we’re going to realize that someone who is in this predicament is facing a really long suspension, and we’ll do everything we can to get them out of it. We do have some experience between the DWI defense and other motor vehicle defense areas that we have developed some strategies, which we’re going to try and use in these cases, when they start bubbling up.

A Person Doesn’t Necessarily Have to Be Texting to be issued a Ticket, Carrying or Viewing the Phone While Driving Gets You a Cell Phone Ticket

Interviewer: What if someone was using a GPS on their phone because they’ll be able to use it from their phone a lot easier than actually having a GPS. A lot of people are switching over to using their phone. What happens in that case?

James Abate: Well, I believe if you have the phone in your hand or you’re viewing the phone, you are going to be issued a violation. There’s actually a move to put in a ban on having mapping or GPS apps on phones. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but if you’re looking at the phone, you’re getting a ticket. If you’re just listening to the directions, through your Bluetooth or through hands-free, then you’re not going to get a ticket.

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