Distracted driving is dangerous, but some believe that a new bill sponsored by assembly men John Wisniewski and Nicholas Chiaravalloti will take things too far. The bill proposes to fine drivers $200-400 for their first offense of eating and/or drinking while driving. Is this law necessary to public safety, or is it just another cash grab by the government?
Statistics confirm that driving while eating and drinking creates a higher risk of an accident. However, citizens must decide if that risk is large enough to necessitate a bill such as this. One study by the New England Journal of Medicine showed that this form of distracted driving increases accidents by an odds ratio of 3.0. To put that number in perspective, texting while driving increases odds by 8.3, while using the radio increases odds by 1.0. Rubbernecking, which is when drivers look at roadside distractions such as car accidents, increases odds to 3.9.
If this bill passes, there is a greater possibility of similar bills being created. Should drivers also be banned from smoking cigarettes? Will this bill be used as a gateway to making radio usage illegal? Having children in the car is 12 times more distracting than speaking on a cellphone. Is it right for New Jersey to cherry pick which distractions should be illegal while driving? There are also fears that this bill will be used by police as an excuse to pull over drivers for which they have no other cause.
The National Motorist Association has been quoted as:
"New Jersey has left almost no stone unturned when it comes to extracting cash from motorists."
Other New Jersey laws have banned hanging air fresheners from mirrors due to them being "obstructions." Another assemblyman, O'Scanlon, has previously commented on New Jersey's extensive ticketing:
"This [ticketing] isn't about safety. We could write 75 percent less tickets and not jeopardize safety."
Police officers are also frustrated at the image that they take on when ticketing extensively. When cops are faced with pressure to give tickets, the public begins to resent them and see them as arms for a money-hungry government.