If you're one of those people who is still talking and/or texting on your hand-held cell phone while driving, you could soon be paying dramatically higher fines and you might lose your driver's license for a while too.

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A bill sponsored by Senators Dick Codey and Fred Madden designed to address the epidemic of hands-free violations by drivers engaging in dangerous distractions while behind the wheel has been signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie.

"Watch out New Jersey drivers, we're coming after you if you text and drive," says Codey.

"Talking or texting from behind the wheel can be just as dangerous as drunk driving, so if you do it, we're going to get you. So think twice before you reach for your cell phone or any other hand-held device while driving."

The new law puts in place a graduated penalty structure for repeat offenders who violate the state's hands-free cell phone law more than once in a ten-year period. The violation now carries a $100 fine for each offense.

The new law increases the fines to $200 to $400 for a first offense, $400 to $600 for a second offense, and $600 to $800 and a 90-day driver's license suspension for the third or subsequent offenses. The fines would be divided equally between the county and municipality where the violation occurred and the Motor Vehicle Commission for use in a public education program.

"This law is intended to save lives and make people think twice before putting themselves and others at risk," says Madden. "It takes a two-prong approach to addressing dangerous driving practices. Increasing penalties for those who commit this offense and directing these fines to educate the public about the dangers of texting while driving will go a long way in reducing this dangerous trend."

The law doesn't actually go into effect until July of 2014. Codey knows there are people who think the law wouldn't be necessary if police would actually enforce the current one. He says the higher fines will signal a message to cops too.

"This tells law enforcement, don't be afraid, pull them over because you know how deadly there are," explains Codey.

Shocking Statistics

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study showed that approximately 58 percent of high school seniors nationwide said they had texted or emailed while driving during the previous month.

In December 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board called for a nationwide ban on the use of cell phones and text messaging devices while driving. A study prepared by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that text messaging took drivers' focus away for 4.6 seconds, and a Clemson University simulator study found that text messaging and using an iPod caused drivers to leave their lanes ten percent more often.

A study by the American Journal of Public Health noted that, if not for texting while driving, the number of deaths caused by distracted driving would have dropped every year from 2002 to 2007, from 4,611 deaths nationwide in 2001 to 1,925 in 2007.