Drinking coffee while driving could land you in hot water if a new piece of legislation passes.
A bill in New Jersey targeting distracted drivers would levy hefty fines and a possible license suspension against those who eat, drink, groom, read, or use electronic devices while behind the wheel. In other words, drive and only drive, or else!
Although the bill’s sponsors — Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Nicholas Chiaravalloti, both Democrats — claim the legislation is intended to educate, not punish, drivers, its penalties speak volumes.
“Violators could face a $200 to $400 fine for the first offense and a $400 to $600 fine for a second offense. A third or subsequent offense could mean a fine of $600 to $800 and up to a 90 day license suspension, as well as motor vehicle points,” according to nj.com.
If that isn’t punishment, one has to wonder what is.
“The issue is that we need to try, in every way, to discourage distracted driving, it’s dangerous,” Wisniewski explained. “Education and enforcement can change the attitudes of people.”
While some experts do indeed believe in discouraging distracted driving, others take issue with the bill’s extreme overreach — not to mention the potential opening of floodgates for further intrusion into people’s lives — and question how police would even enforce such a measure.
As Steve Carrellas, policy and government affairs director of the National Motorists Association’s New Jersey chapter, noted in nj.com:
“This proposed distracted driving law is not needed, since three statutes can be used when a distraction causes unsafe actions, like swerving or crossing a line. There is unsafe driving, careless driving, and reckless driving.”
Carrellas explained a certain level of multitasking while driving is to be expected, and cautioned the bill presents other issues:
“Would [the bill] make changing the radio station or adjusting the volume illegal? What about talking to a passenger?”
While texting and driving has been proven to be unsafe as it requires the driver to focus intently elsewhere, the idea that drinking a beverage — something people arguably do without a second thought — could dangerously divert attention away from the road is nothing short of ludicrous.
If people’s coffees or Big Macs caused dangerous driving in sufficient numbers to require legislation, it would stand to reason food-related driving accidents would constantly be in the headlines.
After all, if taking a sip of iced tea doesn’t force a driver to stray across the line or cause an accident, is it actually distracted driving?
Officials from AAA echoed that question, saying police would have to observe how a driver was distracted by such activity.
“The legislation introduced by Assemblyman Wisniewski, while admirable in theory, may not help police enforce the law,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman, Tracy Noble.
“You’ve got to get people out of the mindset of multitasking,” asserted Arnold Anderson, Essex County Community Traffic Safety Program coordinator. “You can’t multitask. We are so far away from the mindset of … just drive.”
Both Noble and Anderson likened the proposed distracted driving legislation to seat belt laws, saying it could force the mindset to become second nature over time.
But what these legislators and advocates of the bill seem to miss, entirely, in referencing seat belt laws is the precipitous intrusion by the State in legislating behavior that doesn’t harm anyone but the driver. In the case of putative distraction due to food, drink, grooming, or the like, should the driver cause an accident or swerve across the yellow line, they would already be cited — no need for the State to interfere preemptively.
One additional, if minor, aspect this legislation does not take into consideration is the far greater danger posed by drivers falling asleep behind the wheel. Anyone who’s ever taken a road trip can testify to hypnotizing lull of focusing solely on driving — something the food or drink targeted by this bill can help alleviate.
Remaining alert, cautious, and undistracted are imperative while driving — but Nanny State provisions will simply cause unnecessary headaches for police and outrage by otherwise law-abiding citizens.
Perhaps the absurdity of proposed fines in the bill, not the ‘education’ legislators claim, speak to its true intention — yet more revenue generation.
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