NJ Driving Law: use of cellphone while stopped at a red light

Question is if this is legal.

A few years ago a friend of mine used his cellphone while stopped at a red light in NYC and was given a ticket by a cop. He argued that he was not “driving” and the cop said to tell it to the judge, and he asked me if I could look up the law. The law as written in NY does say that it’s only illegal while the vehicle is in motion, so he did “tell it to the judge”, and the judge dismissed the ticket immediately.

Now I live in NJ, and the other day I passed by a cop writing out a parking ticket, and I asked him if it’s illegal to talk on a cellphone in NJ if you’re stopped at a red light. He said it was. I noted that in NY it’s legal and he said yeah but in NJ it’s illegal. But I looked up the law and it seems to say otherwise (emphasis added).

So it seems like it’s only illegal if it’s moving, which would seem to preclude when it’s stopped at a red light.

Unless there’s some weird legal definition of “moving” that is not apparent to the lay reader. Or perhaps there’s been some subsequent revisions to the law since 2013 (though this is the section that consistently shows up when you google NJ cell phone laws).

So I’m guessing this cop is not any better informed than the cop in NY was. But perhaps I’m wrong.

According to this, it was legal, and they were specifically working on a law to clarify “moving” to include stopped at a light. Unclear if this has passed:

Thanks. (That cite is for NY.)

Here’s a cite that it’s become illegal in NJ


You probably are wrong… people who’s daily job it is to enforce a particular set of laws usually do know what’s legal or not. But… AFAIK police are not obliged to tell you the truth about a lot of things you might ask, and can mis-guide or lead you to believe something is unlawful when it’s not simply because it makes their job easier or perhaps it should be illegal but hasn’t quite got there yet.

In my experience most law enforcement types are particularly reluctant to admit to some random guy coming up to them the various loopholes in the law… and an easy answer to an casual person walking up and asking “is X illegal?” is simply “yes”. What’s the penalty to them for saying that and walking/driving away?

Re: Just “looking” at your phone in NJ-what if you are using it as a navigation device? OK, the cite in question discussed that at the bottom-“listening” is legal, but if you looked, then you are apparently hosed.

Trying to prove where, exactly, someone was “looking” (be it at the phone or something else in the same field of vision-assume the motorist was using a hands-free setup of some sort) seems like a huge can of worms to me.

Given that the average time “stopped at a red light” is 24-36 seconds, and rarely as high as 60 seconds, it seems like you would have to be a really quick to have made a call, had the other party answer, have a conversation, say goodbye, and hang up before the light turns green.

I expect that most drivers are still on the phone while driving away, and that is why these laws generally do not provide a ‘red-light loophole’.

Or the cop could give you a ticket for ‘obstructing traffic – failing to move when the turns green’, it that’s what you’ld prefer.

Yes, it is. When the light turns green, you either have to hang up (which most people don’t seem to be able to do) or talk while driving.

So giving you a ticket for what the cop thinks you are going to do?

Police are not obliged to tell you they are police officers when working undercover, or to advise you of all of their rights. They do not have the right to lie about whether a given act is legal (they can arguably wrongly state that an act is illegal).

Moreover, there is no incentive for a police officer to lie to a random member of the public about the legality of using a cellphone at a stop light.

The law was clarified to include at a red light in 2013. Operating a motor vehicle includes while stopped.

Highly unlikely. There are hundreds of laws and multiple caselaw for many. It’s 100% more likely that he was mistaken. It happens. I have to look shit up a lot too. If it’s not a pet peeve and he doesn’t write those tickets there is a good chance he doesn’t know all the ins and out of the law.

Here is an overview of the evolution of the law in NJ.


Looks like NJ has gone the same way as the UK. Many people here use their phone as a ‘free’ satnav and that is fine so long as they set it up before they leave and it is in a holder so they don’t have to touch it while driving. Driving is defined as being in control of the car - it doesn’t matter if you are moving or not. (Although see below)

Offenders are usually dealt with by a fixed penalty notice for six penalty points and £200.

The only acceptable excuse is when a phone is used to call the emergency services (999 here).

How does the law reconcile this with the use of non-phone satnav devices, built-in or otherwise? Is it illegal to touch a non-phone satnav device while operating a vehicle?

Loach’s source suggests that using the phone as a GPS/satnav device is fine, except for school bus drivers.

Expressio unius est exclusio alterius.

You’re in California right? Would you say there is no incentive for a police officer to lie to a member of the public about the legality of not producing identification when a cop demands it?

Is it illegal to adjust your radio volume, or the vent controls, while driving the car?

**Let’s get real, folks! **
Something like this only comes to the attention of cops because you messed up your driving while playing with a device. The cop notices your poor driving, then sees what you are doing, and pulls you over. If you are able to adjust your radio, or turn up the heat, or use your phone navigation while still driving normally, you are unlikely to get noticed & pulled over. People do this all the time, without problems.

And this is nothing new. 50 years ago, I had a friend ticketed for messing with an electronic device when he should have been driving. The charge was “inattentive or careless driving” – while adjusting his 8-track tape player!

Illinois: **“All drivers of all ages are banned from texting and using a cell phone while driving. Only drivers 19 years old and over are permitted to use a handsfree device while operating a vehicle.” **

Notice this law doesn’t say “moving”, it says “operating”. Being stopped at a light doesn’t mean you aren’t operating a motor vehicle. No loophole here.

How? All it says about bus drivers is the following:

All I’m getting out of that is that school bus drivers can never use cell phones while driving, while other drivers can use hands-free devices while talking on cell phones., but can not text or play video games. There’s no implications made regarding GPS being used on a phone being held.


Yes and no. Since a ticket makes revenue for the local government, the incentive is to ticket as much as possible, under the guise of “improving safety”. Just like seatbelt laws, the police will use a variety of tricks to catch you. They have undercover cops on motorcycles, pretending to be squeegee kids, and I even heard of a place in Canada where they were riding the bus and looking down on drivers going by (and then radio a chase car…) Basically, they are not just waiting for you to run over granny before giving you a ticket.

The law in some Canadian provinces - and I assume, the direction most of North America is headed if they aren’t there already - if you have the phone in your hand for any reason, while driving, is a ticket. If you are in Park, on the side of the road (where stopping is legally allowed) then you are not in violation. If you use hands-free, also not a violation. Putting the car in Park in the middle of the driving lanes at a red light doesn’t count as “not driving”.

The smart jurisdictions are making hands-free illegal too. The distraction is not that one is using ones hands but rather having a conversation with a distant person. Studies have shown that the amount of distraction is about the same whether the hands are in use or not.

In fact the distraction nowadays is often just looking at the device, no talking or pushing buttons. A while back, I was bicycling and noticed a line of cars stopped in a busy street. Not at a red light, but at a formerly red light. The first person in the line had his nose in his phone, not calling anyone or texting, doing something else (checking FB, maybe). The people behind were too polite to honk their horns (this is the Northwest, we’re very polite drivers), so I yelled at him to put the phone down and drive.