Drivers could be ticketed for FaceTiming or watching video-streaming devices behind the wheel if a new bill in Trenton gains approval.
Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti, D-31st District, is seeking to tighten the state law that allows motorists to use hands-free cell phones and electronic communications devices, two months after a widely-reported incident involving a school van driver focused attention on the issue.
“I think you have to respond when you see people doing things that endanger the health of those around them, not just themselves,” Chiaravalloti, from Bayonne, said of his bill.
First-time offenders would face a minimum $200 fine, the same penalty for a motorist caught using a hand-held cell phone.
It seeks to bar drivers from “streaming or otherwise viewing video content or engaging in video conferencing while operating the moving motor vehicle regardless of whether the operator is holding the telephone or device,” according to the bill summary, but does not single out FaceTime, YouTube or other services.
It clarifies that drivers may continue using GPS devices and “voice-based communication” that converts speech to text messages.
Chiaravalloti unsuccessfully sought a more comprehensive distracted-driving crackdown in 2016. He said he decided to target video-streaming after a contracted driver working for High Point Regional High School was recorded in January, apparently having a conversation via FaceTime or another video application, by the lone student aboard the minivan. The high school quickly cut ties with the driver, it was previously reported.
While using a cell phone in any manner, except during emergencies, already is prohibited for school bus or van drivers, the incident highlighted a omission in New Jersey law for regular drivers.
“Although we think it would be common sense, that you shouldn’t be watching video, it doesn’t appear to be against the law,” Chiaravalloti said.
The bill was introduced several days ago and referred to the Assembly Transportation Commission, which Chiaravalloti is a member of.
Steve Carrellas, the New Jersey state chapter coordinator for the National Motorists Association, countered that the proposed video-streaming ban “sounds unenforceable.”
Carrellas said he has his cell phone mounted to his dashboard, as allowed by law, and questioned how a police officer would be able to distinguish between the photo displayed on his phone and the FaceTime app.
“How is that an additional distraction, given that they’re allowing the use of a telephone call with hands-free devices?” Carrellas asked.
Chiaravalloti said that he does not expect that police will be excessively handing out tickets.
“I would imagine that the only people that would get pulled over are the egregious cases, or when other people are reporting the incident,” he said.