Tougher Road Rage Penalties Under Jessica’s Law [VIDEO/POLL]
The full Assembly has unanimously passed a measure dubbed, “Jessica’s Law.” It’s named after Jessica Rogers, who was 16 at the time of a horrific road rage accident and is now 23 and paralyzed from the chest down. She testified at the Assembly Committee hearing last year and was in attendance with her family yesterday for the Assembly vote.
Jessica was a passenger in a vehicle that slammed into a telephone pole after the driver, angered that he had been cut-off, attempted to illegally pass another car on the shoulder. Both Jessica and another passenger were seriously injured in the wreck. The driver was convicted of two counts of assault by auto and sentenced to six months in jail and five years probation. The driver served four months.
“The person who was driving the car that I was in, he was in jail for four months, that’s it and got off scot free,” explains Jessica. “I would’ve thought he would’ve went to jail for a few years at least and maybe after jail, probation, but that never happened.”
Jessica says she’s happy that road rage could soon be would included in the state’s assault-by-auto statute and lead to enhanced punishments for individuals convicted under that law.
“I don’t want a family to go through what I had to go through and what my family had to go through,” says Jessica. “It not only changed my life just being in a wheelchair, but it’s an everyday struggle. I can’t move my fingers. There are so many things that I can’t do and it’s all because of the road rage incident.”
Under the provisions of the bill, assault by auto or vessel is upgraded from a crime of the fourth degree to a crime of the third degree if a person operates an auto or vessel recklessly, in knowing disregard of the rights or safety of others, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property and causes serious bodily injury. Assault by auto or vessel is upgraded from a disorderly persons offense to a crime of the fourth degree if bodily injury results.
A crime of the third degree is punishable by term of imprisonment of three to five years, a fine of up to $15,000 or both. A crime of the fourth degree is punished by up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of $10,000, or both. A disorderly persons offense is punishable by imprisonment for up to six months, a fine of $1,000, or both.
Jessica says, “This happens all the time and there’s no punishment for it and now there will be.” She also has some advice. She says, “If someone cuts you off or tail-gates you don’t get upset about it. Switch lanes and let them pass you. Let them get by because it could turn into something horrible. People die over incidents like this. I consider myself lucky, but it could’ve been avoided.”
The bill must still be passed by the State Senate before it heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature.
Video by Dino Flammia