SENATE BUDGET AND APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE
SENATE, No. 69
STATE OF NEW JERSEY
DATED: JUNE 18, 2012
The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee reports favorably Senate Bill No. 69 (1R).
The bill imposes increased fines for first and subsequent offenses of talking on a hand-held wireless telephone or texting a message with a hand-held wireless electronic communication device while driving.
Under current law, the fine for this motor vehicle violation is $100. This bill would increase that fine to $200 for a first offense, $400 for a second offense, and $600 for third or subsequent offenses. All fines collected will be paid to the State Treasurer for allocation to the Chief Administrator of the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) for use in the commission's public education program on this offense, which will include informing motorists of the dangers of texting while driving.
The bill also permits the court at its discretion to impose a 90-day driver’s license suspension for persons convicted of the offense for a third or subsequent time. In addition, third and subsequent offenders would receive three motor vehicle penalty points.
Under the bill, a person convicted of a second offense of driving while talking or texting on a hand-held device would be treated as a first time offender for sentencing purposes if the second offense occurs more than 10 years after the first offense. Similarly, a person convicted of a third offense would be treated as a second-time offender for sentencing purposes if the third offense occurs more than ten years after the second offense.
It is the committee’s understanding that this bill commemorates victims who were killed or seriously injured by the illegal use of a cell phone while driving: Helen Kulesh, who was tragically killed by a person who was using a cell phone while driving; David and Linda Kubert, who were both severely injured by a driver who was illegally using a cell phone; and Toni Bolis and her son Ryan Jeffery Bolis, who died in a motor vehicle accident that was allegedly caused by a person who was using a cell phone while driving.
The Office of Legislative Services (OLS) notes that this bill will provide an increase in revenue for the State by redirecting collected fine money from the counties and municipalities to the N.J. Motor Vehicle Commission for an anti-texting public education program and by increasing fines where the State is issuing the fine. County and municipalities may experience an increase in expenditures based on the mandatory court appearance requirement and a decrease in revenues as the fines have been redirected to the State.
The bill also increases State expenditures by requiring the fines collected by the court and redirected to the State Treasurer be used by the MVC for a State public relations campaign. The Administrative Office of the Courts noted that from June 2011 to May 2012 there were 81,133 guilty pleas. At present, the county and the municipality split the fine revenue. Under current law the fine is $100 and would have provided an estimated $8,113,300 in total revenue in this same duration.
If the offenses occur at a similar rate of the past year and assuming that all 80,000 pleas were first offenses, OLS estimates that the fines would raise $16,226,600 million for the MVC public education campaign in the first year.
During a Senate Law and Public Safety committee hearing on a similar bill (Senate Bill No. 2181 of 2010), a representative from the Administrative Office of the Courts noted that any graduation in fines, such as in this bill, requires a mandatory court appearance. It is the understanding of OLS, however, that a court fee could be assessed in addition to the fine money to offset the increase in the number of hearings.
According to information provided informally by the MVC, implementation of the increased fines will require system and programming changes, and will also involve additional materials and staff costs relating to the changes. The MVC estimates these costs will total approximately $110,000.