NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – North Plainfield Police Chief William Parenti and Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey Soriano want to remind drivers that the penalties for talking or texting on the phone rise today. On Wednesday July 9 and Friday July 18, Somerset local and county police forces will be adding additional patrols looking for distracted drivers and enforcing the new penalties.

“If police see you with a phone in your hand,” said Parenti during another distracted driving sting in April, 2014. “You will have a ticket in the other.”

Before today the penalty for distracted driving was $100, and it’s risen to $200 - $400 on a first offense.  For the first time, the fines rise progressively for each subsequent offense with a second penalty of $400-600.

A third offence has an $800 fine and the potential of a loss of license for 90 days.  Every offense from the third on includes three motor vehicle penalty points which cost more in government fees and insurance costs.

The increases are the result of state legislation passed in 2013.

Somerset County launched the “Put It Down” campaign in 20011 as a partnership between the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, the Somerset County Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Somerset Medical Center, now the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset.  The program has continued for the past three years, and has been successful in educating the public on the hazards of distracted driving.

“With its Put It Down initiative, Somerset County has been at the forefront of the fight against distracted driving since for some time now”, says Prosecutor Soriano.  “We’d like to believe that those who drive through this county have been forewarned and that this new legislation is confirmation that driving in a distracted manner is as bad—if not worse—than driving while intoxicated.”

In New Jersey it is illegal for any driver to hold a handheld device or text while operating a vehicle, and bud drivers and novice drivers are forbidden from even talking on cell phones.  

According to the US Department of Transportation more than 3,300 people died in accidents involving a distracted driver, and more than 400,000 people were injured. 

The effort is particularly focused on young drivers.  Ten percent of fatal accidents involving drivers under twenty are attributable to distracted driving.  Twenty seven percent all fatal accidents involve a distracted driver under the age of 30.