Penalties for drunken driving with a minor in the vehicle could soon become far more severe in New Jersey than they are right now.

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Even with awareness campaigns, police checkpoints, and stricter enforcement of drunken driving laws, there are still many instances of someone who is drunk getting behind the wheel with children in the backseat, crashing the car and injuring or even killing the kids.

"These children are driven by adults and they're told to get in the car. They don't have a voice. They don't have a say-so whether the person is drunk or not. We have to be the voice for those children," said Assemblyman Charles Mainor (D-Jersey City).

Current law says that a person convicted of drunken driving is guilty of a disorderly persons offense and faces up to six months in jail if a there is a minor as a passenger. Under a bill co-sponsored by Mainor, the driver would face up to 18 months behind bars if a child is injured, and up to five years in prison if the child is seriously injured. The assemblyman said his time as a Jersey City police officer taught him that stricter penalties are needed.

"I have seen this. At times it brought tears to my eyes because of what could have happened," Mainor said. "I never saw a child killed, but what could have happened to that child just brought tears to my eyes. It is my duty to mandate common sense."

The legislation has several co-sponsors. One of them, Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Hamilton Square), said a tougher penalty would make it clear that New Jersey does not tolerate this type of recklessness when it comes to the life of a child.

"We're talking about child endangerment," said Benson in a press release. "Drunk driving is wholly unacceptable, but it is even more delinquent when a minor is a passenger of the vehicle."

The legislation overwhelmingly passed the full Assembly on Thursday by a margin of 77 to 1, with one abstention.