An effort to increase the punishment for driving while talking or texting on a cell phone has been started in New Jersey.

The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee voted by a majority of 4-1 Monday, Sept. 13, to advance a bill that supporters say would make the state’s texting while driving law the toughest in the United States. The bill (S2181) would also upgrade the penalty structure for repeat offenders.

New Jersey law already allows police to pull over drivers for typing, reading or sending text messages while at the wheel. It also allows primary enforcement of the state’s ban on using any cell phone that is not a hands-free device.

Sponsored by Sen. Richard Codey, the amended bill would put in place a “three strikes” policy when dealing with distracted drivers. Anyone caught violating the law three times would have their driver’s license suspended for 90 days.

First-time offenders would pay $200 – double the current fine. Repeat offenders would be liable for $400. A third offence would result in a $600 fine, in addition to the suspension.

Violators would have to go 10 years between offenses to avoid the increased penalties.

Critics say the existing laws in New Jersey that cover careless and reckless driving are sufficient, but Codey said he is hopeful the tougher fines and the potential license suspension would make drivers think twice before texting while at the wheel.

“Various transportation studies have compared driving drunk with driving while texting, and have found overwhelming evidence that texting impairs a driver’s reaction time far worse than alcohol,” Codey said in a statement. “It’s time that we treat this violation like the dangerous activity it really is.”