🚨 There are exemptions to New Jersey's law on cell phone use

🚨 You may be able to fight a ticket in court

🚨 The minimum fine for a first offense is $200

A cop catches you on the phone — in hand — while driving.

There's likely not much you can say or do at this point. But fighting a traffic ticket for improper use of a phone while driving is not impossible. You just have to hope a judge will trust that the cop caught you during the split second you were answering or ending a call.

"The defense is very limited," Leon Matchin, a criminal, DUI, and traffic law attorney in Milltown, tells New Jersey 101.5.

Is using a cell phone behind the wheel ever acceptable? (luna4, ThinkStock)
Is using a cell phone behind the wheel ever acceptable? (luna4, ThinkStock)

What is New Jersey's law on using a phone while driving?

Although it's still discouraged, you are permitted to use a hands-free device while behind the wheel, as long as it doesn't interfere with any safety equipment in the vehicle.

But having your hand on the phone for a call or text is not legal, and officers in New Jersey have been able to pull over drivers for close to 15 years now for this reason.

In 2022 alone, municipal police departments across New Jersey issued more than 27,000 tickets for cell phone use behind the wheel, according to the New Jersey Judiciary. The count topped 53,000 in both 2018 and 2019.

Dennis Malloy, Townsquare Media NJ
Dennis Malloy, Townsquare Media NJ

Are there exceptions to New Jersey's cell phone law?

Drivers in New Jersey can have their phones in hand in certain emergency situations.

Specifically, phone use is permitted when the driver has reason to fear for their life or safety, or the driver is reporting a fire, hazard, accident, or reckless driver to authorities.

In cases like these, the matter likely would never reach a courtroom. Ideally, you'd tell the cop about the emergency when you're pulled over, and a ticket for phone use wouldn't be issued.

The statute also expressly permits drivers to have one hand on their phone to "activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of the phone."

"That's basically defined by case law as answering the phone, ending the phone call, or dialing a phone number," Matchin said.

Can I get out of a cell phone ticket in New Jersey?

Matchin said the "activate/deactivate" language is what's typically used in court to attempt to get drivers out of a ticket. It's the prosecution's burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that one was using a phone improperly behind the wheel — so maybe the driver was spotted while just dialing a number.

If that argument is put forth and the ticket isn't thrown away, it may at least be shifted to a lesser offense.


What's the penalty for driving while on the phone?

A first offense in New Jersey carries a fine of $200 to $400.

The minimum fine is $400 and the maximum fine is $600 for a second offense.

Any subsequent offenses are met with a fine of up to $800, three points on your license, and the possibility of losing your license for 90 days.

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Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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