Prison In NJ For Some Who Talk And Text Behind The Wheel?
A bill approved by the full Assembly on Thursday would make it easier for prosecutors to obtain 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 serious prison time.
Under current law, a person is guilty of death or assault by auto when it is proven that he or she drove a motor vehicle recklessly. This bill 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."
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.
"Too many people have lost their lives at the hands of drivers who were distracted while talking on, texting or checking their cell phones," says Moriarty. "Taking your eyes off the road even for a few seconds to check your cell phone could make the difference between life and death, and for some of these families, it did in the most tragic way. Enough is enough."
In the state Senate, the measure has been referred to the Budget and Appropriations Committee.