Concerned about the rise in texting-related car accidents and fatalities in the area, one of the state’s smallest municipalities is taking action.
“The warning period is over in the town of Guttenberg,” said Police Capt. Joel Magenheimer. “The Guttenberg Police Department has been, and will be, on normal patrol in marked vehicles, as well as unmarked vehicles. [They] will be enforcing the cell phone law without accepting any excuses from the driver as to why he or she using a cell phone driving – whether they’re talking, texting, or the cell phone is just seen in the driver’s hand. A summons will be issued.”
Hudson County and the northern New Jersey area have been especially sensitive to the issue following the July 30 death of 8-month-old Angelie Paredes of North Bergen. Angelie was killed when a bus driver ran his vehicle into a lamp post, knocking it over and sending it crashing into the infant’s stroller. The driver is alleged to have been texting on his phone at the time the accident occurred.
Angelie’s parents have become vocal advocates against motorists texting while driving, hoping to spare others the pain they have gone through after the loss of their child.
In mid-August, the town of Guttenberg – only two-fifths of a mile in size – issued 41 summonses, according to the captain.
According to the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts, the current fine for a first-time offender talking on a hand-held wireless phone or texting a message while driving is $100. But Gov. Chris Christie has signed into law a measure that increases that fee to between $200 and $400 as of July 1 next year.
Talking on cell phones
The problem that preceded the texting issue, talking on the cell phone while driving, was bad enough, Magenheimer said.
While driving and talking on a cell phone doesn't require the driver's eyes to be off the road, drivers talking on cell phones are as impaired as they would be if their blood alcohol level was .08 percent, the threshold for drunk driving in New Jersey, according to the captain.
But the advent of texting, and its now commonplace use in society, has made cell phones in cars an even greater safety concern.
“If it happens to a driver, their life will be changed forever.” – Capt. Joel Magenheimer
‘It can’t happen to me’
Part of the problem is that drivers do not think they personally will be the ones to wind up in the middle of a serious accident, according to the captain.
“There are so many people who just don’t get it, no matter what happens to others that were involved in accidents involving a cell phone,” he said, “just because it hasn’t happened to them, or they think it won’t happen to them.”
He added, “If it happens to a driver, their life will be changed forever.”
In a matter related to the Paredes tragedy, on Aug. 16, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called on U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to form a special Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration task force to address the issues surrounding independently owned and operated transit service providers, commonly referred to as “jitney” services, in northern New Jersey.
Earlier in the month, on Aug. 6, local, state and federal officials had held a press conference on 56th Street and Boulevard East in West New York, site of the accident, to pledge their efforts in creating greater oversight of the jitneys and other buses. West New York is adjacent to Guttenberg.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.