It's illegal in New Jersey to put your smartphone to your ear and take a call while driving, but conduct the call through FaceTime or a similar video-chat program, and you could be in the clear.

Legislation advanced by an Assembly panel by Monday would change that, by immediately including video streaming and video conferencing under the umbrella of New Jersey's distracted driving violations, whether or not the driver is holding their phone or tablet.

"Making it that much harder for people to be distracted while they're driving is something that will protect our residents," said Assemblywoman Lisa Swain, D-Bergen, a sponsor of the measure.

The bill was introduced in March in response to an incident in which a Sussex County school van driver was caught chatting on FaceTime while driving a student. She lost her route and was ticketed for using a cell phone while transporting kids.

Bill sponsor Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro, D-Salem, said technology is delivering more opportunities for drivers to get distracted. Citing State Police data, Taliaferro said distracted driving was a major contributing factor in nearly 800,000 motor vehicle crashes in New Jersey from 2012 to 2016.

"It's a dangerous epidemic on the roadways here," Taliaferro said.

Under current state law, individuals are permitted to operate a motor vehicle while using a hands-free device. The hands-free exception would not apply to the actions addressed by this legislation.

Drivers would still be able to use GPS for directions.

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