N.J. Senate panel backs tougher penalty for texting

A New Jersey Senate committee has advanced a measure that would increase the penalties for texting or talking on a cell phone while driving.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Dick Codey, D-Essex, says using a hand-held device while behind the wheel is a big distraction. Codey, who said it’s more dangerous than drunken driving, said the current penalty isn’t enough of a deterrence.

“Right now, it’s a $100 fine. I would say right now that’s a slap on the wrist and we’ve got to do is a slap in the face,” Codey said Monday. “This bill does exactly that and hopefully wakens up the public.”

The increased penalties would be $200 for a first offense, $400 for the second, and $600 and three points for a third.

The measure also allows a judge to suspend a driver’s license for 90 days for a third conviction.

The Senate passed similar legislation in 2010, and Codey says he’ll step up efforts to get the Assembly to enact it this year.

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