New Jersey passed its first ban on using a handheld cell phone while driving in 2004 as a secondary violation. That meant that drivers could only be ticketed for using their cell phone while driving if they had pulled over by police for other driving infraction.
In 2008, following a surge in crashes caused by distracted driving linked to cell phone use, state legislators made using a cell phone while driving a primary driving offense. That meant that police were given the authority to stop and cite drivers they saw actively violating the cell phone while driving ban. It was thought increased vigilance and greater authority by police would help turn the tide of crashes linked to distracted driving.
But has it?
There were nearly 3,600 crashes linked to the use of cell phones while driving in 2006. Following the first ban, then the enhanced ban in 2008, those numbers did wane slightly, but in 2010, the most recent year for which driving crash data was available, there were 3,351 crashes linked to cell phone use while driving. Only slightly better than the year in which the total ban was made a primary offense.
There seems to be little doubt that distracted driving inhibits safe driving and leads to an increased number of crashes, some of which result in injury or death. A National Transportation Safety Board report from December 2011 indicates that distracted driving results in more fatal crashes than driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This alone is enough to warrant further study into not only how to force drivers to stop using their handheld devices while driving, but also wake them up to just how dangerous it is.