New Jersey is considering a law that would make drinking while driving a crime: drinking coffee while driving, that is.
As MSN reports, the bill before the New Jersey legislature doesn’t specifically target coffee — it targets all manner of distracted driving. Specifically, the bill targets “any activity unrelated to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of the vehicle on a public road or highway.” That means not only drinking coffee, but also drinking tea or soda, eating a doughnut, touching up your makeup, or doing just about anything other than operating your car.
Lest you think New Jersey is unique in its zeal to outlaw distracted driving, Maine has already gotten in on the act. In 2009, the Pine Tree State became the first state to completely ban distracted driving.
So just how big of a problem is distracted driving? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on average, eight Americans die and over thousand more are injured every day due to distracted driving. The main culprits are, of course, cell phones (especially the dreaded texting-and-driving), but other seemingly mundane activities, such as eating or drinking, can take your mind off the road.
The problem, according to the National Safety Council, is that the human brain just isn’t equipped to do two things at once.
“Multitasking is a myth. Human brains do not perform two tasks at the same time. Instead, the brain handles tasks sequentially, switching between one task and another. Brains can juggle tasks very rapidly, which leads us to erroneously believe we are doing two tasks at the same time. In reality, the brain is switching attention between tasks – performing only one task at a time.”
That means that even when your eyes are on the road, if you’re doing anything else that requires your attention — even using a “hands-free” device — your brain can’t handle both tasks, and something has to come last.
And New Jersey is serious about making distracted driving a crime. Under the proposed bill, a first offense carries a fine of between $200 and $400 for the first offense, $400 to $600 for the second offense, and $600 to $800 for the third. The third-time offender would also have his license suspended for 90 days and take points on his driving record.
The bill’s sponsor, democrat Assemblyman John Wisniewski, says he has seen people in New Jersey trying to read the newspaper while driving.
“The issue is that we need to try, in every way, to discourage distracted driving, it’s dangerous. Education and enforcement can change the attitudes of people.”
Not everyone in New Jersey is on board with taking such a heavy-handed approach to distracted driving, however.
Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, tells the Newark Star-Ledger that he believes such draconian methods aren’t the way to go.
“With education and vigorous enforcement of safety belt laws, we saw immediate effects with fewer deaths. We’re not seeing the same kind of immediate safety benefits with education and enforcement of cell phone laws… Addressing distracted driving through new laws is not likely to be an effective approach to make roads safer.”
Instead, Rader favors education in favor of legislation as well as making distracted driving offenses a secondary offense (meaning a cop has to have a different reason to pull you over, then he can also ticket you for distracted driving).
Do you believe New Jersey is in the right to ban drinking coffee while driving?
[Image via Boumen Japet/Shutterstock]