A bill signed into law yesterday by Acting Governor Kim Guadagno makes it easier for prosecutors to get convictions for vehicular homicide or assault by auto against a person who illegally uses a cell phone while driving and, as a result, kills or injures someone.

That could mean lengthy jail time.

"The consequences of distracted driving are devastating. It's baffling why otherwise law abiding citizens, who would never get behind the wheel holding an open beer, will text or talk on their cell phones while driving and ignore the danger," says Guadagno. "This new law sends a clear and serious message to people who dare to talk or text on their cell phone while driving."

Before this new law, a person could be found guilty of death or assault by auto when it was proven that he or she drove a motor vehicle recklessly. This law specifically provides that the illegal use of a cell phone while driving may give rise to an inference that the defendant was driving recklessly.

"People aren't getting the message," says bill co-sponsor, Assemblyman Paul Moriarty. "No one would drive down the street with a martini in their hand and think that that was okay. They know that's wrong, yet people are going down the street every day texting, looking at their GPS, playing 'Words with Friends' and they don't get the idea that this is incredibly dangerous and they could kill someone. We have to send a strict message here in New Jersey."

The bill is named "Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis' Law" after Helen Kulesh who was tragically killed by a person who was using a cell phone while driving, David and Linda Kubert who were both severely injured by a driver who was illegally using a cell phone, and Toni Bolis and her unborn son, Ryan Jeffrey Bolis, who died in a motor vehicle accident that was allegedly caused by a person who was using a cell phone while driving.

Assemblywoman Annette Quijano also sponsors the measure. She says, "Tragedies like the ones the Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis families endured are made all the more tragic by the fact that they could have been avoided if the other driver hadn't been so careless. Hopefully these stiffer penalties will be a wake-up call to drivers who are willing to put their own life, as well as those of innocent other people, at risk."

"If you're driving, updating your Facebook status or checking in on Foursquare can wait. Distracted driving is irresponsible and can have devastating consequences," says Assemblyman Charles Mainor, another sponsor of the bill. "To those individuals who think they can maneuver a car just fine while using their cell phones, I ask them to think about the Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis families and reconsider."

Assemblyman Al Coutinho also sponsored the measure.

He explains, "Any driver willing to play Russian Roulette with other people's lives should face the stiffest penalties possible. Hopefully this law will send a clear signal to drivers that unless they take personal responsibility, they will be facing much harsher consequences if a tragedy occurs."

Vehicular homicide is generally a crime of the second degree, punishable by imprisonment of five to ten years, a fine of up to $150,000, or both. Assault by auto is a crime of the fourth degree if serious bodily injury occurs and a disorderly persons offense if bodily injury occurs. A fourth degree crime is punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. The penalty for a disorderly persons offense is imprisonment for up to six months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

Assemblymen Anthony Bucco and Michael Patrick Carroll are also sponsors.

Bucco says, "The irresponsible use of a cell phone while driving can have tragic consequences as evidenced by the stories of Ms. Kulesh, Mr. and Mrs. Kubert and Toni and Ryan Bolis. Because of the distraction of a cell phone, two people lost limbs, and three others died. Driving is a responsibility, not a right. Everyone must take that responsibility seriously. These are three cases of what heartbreak inattentive driving can cause. There is now a price to pay for such capricious acts. "


"Three tragic traffic incidents have resulted in the loss of life, permanently disabled people and caused untold grief for families," says Carroll. "Drivers who act irresponsibly must answer for their actions. Negligent actions have consequences, and those who are responsible must be held accountable."

Senate sponsors of the bill include Fred Madden and Ray Lesniak.

Madden who is former State Police superintendent says, "There is no question that illegally using a cell phone causes distractions for those out on the road. Sometimes those distractions can have tragic results. That is why it is important that we send a message that such behavior must cease. This is about saving lives and protecting people."

"When a driver makes the decision to ignore basic common sense and uses a cell phone while behind the wheel, if someone is hurt or killed as a result of that recklessness, there should be serious penalties," explains Lesniak. "This new law gives prosecutors the ability to leverage tougher penalties against drivers who violate the State's hands-free cell phone law and cause an accident that injures or kills someone else. It's the right thing to do, and it sends the message that New Jersey takes the threat of reckless driving very seriously."

Courtesy Governor's Office