If you're one of those people who still ignores the law and talks or texts on a hand-held cell phone while driving you could soon be forced to do it from the passenger seat.

Flickr user: mrJasonWeaver

A bi-partisan bill that has passed both houses of the legislature and now heads to Governor Chris Christie's desk includes a provision that allows a judge to suspend the driver's license of chronic offenders.

The bi-partisan measure sponsored on the Democratic side by Assembly members Annette Quijano, Grace Spencer, Wayne DeAngelo, Angel Fuentes and Paul Moriarty and Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz on the GOP side of the aisle.

"We need to send a louder message that cell phone use while driving is a serious, and often deadly, hazard," says Quijano. "Most people know it's wrong and have probably had a few scares themselves, but they continue to do it because they think they can get away with it. Hopefully stiffer penalties will change our way of thinking."

Under current law, the fine for using a hand-held electronic device while driving is $100. The bill approved today would increase that fine to a minimum of $200 and a maximum of $400 for a first offense, a minimum of $400 and a maximum of $600 for a second offense, and a minimum of $600 and a maximum of $800 for third or subsequent offenses.

"Cell phone use while driving, particularly texting, has become almost an epidemic these days, a very dangerous epidemic," Spencer explains. "It's our hope that the increased fines and suspension imposed by this bill will act as a further deterrent to these dangerous habits."

The bill also permits the court at its discretion to impose a 90-day driver's license suspension for anyone convicted of the offense for a third or subsequent time. In addition, third and subsequent offenders would receive three motor vehicle penalty points.

"Driving is a privilege that comes with the responsibility of devoting one's full attention to the road," Muñoz says. "Those who fail to take this responsibility seriously endanger themselves, their passengers and other drivers. When a person is illegally using a cell phone or texting, they are distracted and pose a serious risk to other drivers and pedestrians. It only takes a moment of inattention to cause a lifetime of irreparable harm for someone or their family."

"Respecting and abiding by the rules of the road is not an option, it is mandatory."

A 2009 survey by AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety found that two out of three respondents admitted to talking on their cell phones while driving and one out of five admitted to reading or sending text messages while driving.

"No situation is that urgent that it warrants endangering yourself or others while driving," insists DeAngelo. "Many of us got by much of our lives without phones in the car. There's no reason why we shouldn't be able to put that habit on hold while we're driving now."

Recent studies have shown that texting while driving is riskier than driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. One study by the Transport Research Laboratory found that the reaction time of motorists who were texting dramatically decreased by 35 percent, much worse than those who drank alcohol at the legal limit (12 percent slower) or those who had used marijuana (21 percent slower).

"Think about how many times you're driving and you see someone looking down, not paying attention to the road, and they're busy texting," says Fuentes. "All it takes is a split second with your eyes off the road to cause a serious accident or even a death."