Under Proposed New Jersey Law, Drinking Coffee and Driving Could Be a Crime

Under a new rule proposed in New Jersey, sipping a coffee or munching a ham sandwich on the road could mean steep fines for drivers.

Lawmakers in Trenton are currently weighing a bill that would ban "any activity unrelated to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of the vehicle on a public road or highway."

According to Steph Solis writing for USA Today, “That means no cup of coffee for those sitting in traffic, no munching on that breakfast burrito, no time to groom. (No, the law does not target coffee verbatim.)”

Such language could include a broad swath of other activities, from adjusting the volume to grooming on the road.

While Maine and Utah have already passed laws prohibiting distracted driving, the New Jersey proposal is poised to be the strongest in the country.

Proposed by New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) and Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson), the law could bring staggering fines. “A violation of this prohibition will result in a $200-$400 fine for the first offense, $400-$600 for a second offense, and $600-$800 for a third or subsequent offense,” the proposed legislation states. “A third or subsequent violation may also result in a driver’s license suspension of up to 90 days and a motor vehicle points penalty at the court’s discretion.”

The proposal also raises questions about who would bear the brunt of this heightened criminalization, given that people of color nationwide are far more likely than their white counterparts to be stopped for alleged traffic violations. New Jersey police departments are dogged accusations of racial profiling, with a recent report from Seton Hall University determining that the Bloomfield, New Jersey police department disproporationately pulls over Black and Latino drivers.


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