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Texting and driving? Manslaughter charges are possible in New Jersey

New Jersey law can criminalize distracted driving, but may be hard for prosecutors to prove.

Today, nearly everyone has their own cellphone or smartphone. More often than not, people take their phones with them everywhere they go, including in the car. This often leads to people multi-tasking while they drive, whether having a phone conversation behind the wheel or even attempting to text while driving. Some New Jersey residents may not yet realize that under a state law enacted in 2012, they can actually be charged with a crime for texting behind the wheel.

Texting and driving falls under the category of distracted driving, which is said to have killed more than 1,600 people in car crashes across the country. According to the State of New Jersey Department of the Law and Public Safety, distracted driving includes such activities as eating and drinking, putting on makeup, changing radio stations and even interacting with passengers. However, the department names texting and driving as one of the most dangerous forms of distracted driving.

Driver can be charged with vehicular manslaughter if texting while driving can be proven

All states now have laws regulating cellphone use while driving, but New Jersey has some of the strictest laws in the nation. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, the use of all hand-held devices is prohibited while driving in the state. This includes adjusting a GPS unit or switching the tunes stored on a cellphone, as well as talking on the phone. All cellphone use is banned for novice drivers, while those with more experience are able to use a hands-free device to talk. Not surprisingly, texting while driving is prohibited for everyone regardless of experience.

The law that potentially criminalizes distracted driving, which went into effect in 2012, may be difficult to prosecute, states USA Today. If it can be proven that a driver was sending or reading texts at the time of a crash that caused someone’s death or serious injuries, the driver could be charged with vehicular manslaughter. However, to date there have been no vehicular manslaughter accusations related to texting and driving that stuck, although some have received lesser charges. Authorities say that it’s difficult to get accurate cell phone evidence that proves a driver was reading or sending a text at the time of the crash. Part of this evidence would include records from the phone company. Some in the industry say these records are not always reliable.

A vehicular manslaughter charge is serious, and can result in costly penalties such as fines and even jail time. Younger drivers may not fully realize the risks of being charged with such a serious offense, let alone hurting someone with the seemingly innocent act of checking their cellphone for a text. Even if prosecutors cannot find proof that a driver was distracted at the time of a crash, it’s possible to face charges that are just as severe, and possibly easier to convict, by stating the accident was caused as a result of reckless driving.

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If you or your teenager has been charged with distracted or reckless driving, you will need an experienced defense attorney to protect your rights.

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