When is using a cell phone while driving permissible?
Using a hand-held cell phone while driving in New Jersey is against the law, and punishable by hefty fines, but according to law enforcement officials, there are instances when it's acceptable.
Currently, using a cell phone behind the wheel could result in a fine of $200-$400 for a first offense, $400-$600 for a second offense, and $600-$800 for a third offense and three points will also be assessed to the driver's record, along with a possible 90-day driver license suspension. According to New Jersey State Police Capt. Steven Jones, this law is strictly enforced, but there are some exceptions in certain situations.
"There's going to be those rare occasions when a person is able to use a hand-held cell phone or mobile device to report some kind of a crime, so sort of a dangerous situation," he said. "The statute actually says in fear of his or her life or safety, believes that a criminal act may be perpetrated against himself or another person, it's those type of things."
He said this could include some kind of a road hazard or a hazmat traffic situation that needs to be reported immediately.
But what about if you're using your cell phone as a GPS device?
"Unfortunately that's one of the uses that is still illegal, you cannot hold your phone and use it as a GPS," Jones said. "If you want to use it in that fashion, leaving it on and kind of navigating by it, then you've got to have a way to prop that phone up somewhere, where you're not actually using your hand to hold it."
Jones also said "there's a number of fairly inexpensive ways to mount your phone, I have one that sticks to the upper part of the windshield or the top of the dashboard."
He said doing anything on a hand-held cell phone while driving is distracting and dangerous, which is why, in most cases, it's illegal. That hasn't stopped many New Jersey drivers from using their cell phones while they're behind the wheel, however.
Over the past five years in New Jersey there have been 449,344 tickets issued to drivers using their cell phones - that's an average of 89,869 a year.
The number of tickets issued has been trending downward - there were 110,984 tickets issued in 2010, and 88,692 given out last year- but authorities insist the numbers are still way too high, because many people continue to use hand held phones while driving.