New Jersey Court Finds Loophole in State Mobile Law Statute

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A loophole in a driving while talking/texting law renders the statute useless.

We’ve all done it, but driving while dialing is genuinely dangerous. Studies suggest it’s as hazardous as drunk driving.

To save us from ourselves, most jurisdictions have enacted laws addressing hands-free phone device use. But a recent New Jersey appellate court decision rendered the state’s mobile driving law useless.

New Jersey’s “Driving While Dialing” Statue

New Jersey’s hands-free, mobile phone driving statue allows for “the use of either hand to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of the telephone.” In other words, you’re allowed, while driving, to hold your phone in one hand in order to turn it on, off, or dial.

New Jersey v. Malone: A Mobile Law Case

Not so long ago, New Jersey resident, Elliott Malone, was traveling in his car. Elliott happened to pass a police officer who determined that Malone was “pushing buttons” on his phone. To the officer, it appeared motorist Malone was not using a hands-free mobile device, so the cop issued a ticket.

Malone decided to fight back. Instead of simply paying the fine, he “Mr. Smithed” his case right to the courts.

At first, a municipal court rejected Malone’s pleas and refused to let him admit his evidence. The first judge found him “guilty of holding his cell phone while driving,” and ordered the motorist to pay $139 worth of court fees and fines. Undeterred, Malone appealed the trial decision — and won!

New Jersey’s Giant Mobile Law Loophole

As pointed out by the appellate court, New Jersey’s driving-while-dialing law is a giant loophole. Tediously, it all boils down to the word “use.”

As stated above, NJ law states that individuals are allowed to use cell phones while driving, so long as they have a hands-free device. The statute also recognizes that people need to use their hands to activate and deactivate calls. What the law doesn’t outline is what, exactly, constitutes acceptable acts of “activation” and “deactivation.”

Legal Implications

Is dialing a phone number part of activating a call? Prosecutors argued that pushing multiple buttons isn’t required to activate or deactivate a mobile device, but the bench decided that “dialing” is not expressly prohibited in the statue’s language:

“There are many ways by which a motorist could activate a wireless telephone, and the statute does not limit the methods used by a motorist.”

In other words, since the law doesn’t clearly state what constitutes “dialing” and “use,” people can claim they were “activating” a function, not talking.

Need a lawyer for a “driving while dialing” ticket? Contact the mobile law lawyers at Kelly / Warner Law.

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