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Quijano, Coutinho Measure is Named After NJ Residents Killed & Injured by Drivers Using Cell Phones

The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on Thursday approved a bill sponsored by Assembly members Annette Quijano and Albert Coutinho cracking down on anyone who kills or injures another person while driving and illegally using a hand-held cell phone.

“Tragedies like the ones the Kulesh and Kubert 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,” said Quijano (D-Union). “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.”

The bill (A-2816) is named “Kulesh and Kubert’s Law” after Helen Kulesh who was tragically killed by a person who was using a cell phone while driving, and David and Linda Kubert who were both severely injured by a driver who was illegally using a cell phone.

The bill 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.

“Any driver willing to play Russian Roulette with other people’s lives should face the stiffest penalties possible,” said Coutinho (D-Essex/Union). “Hopefully this bill will send a clear signal to drivers that unless they take personal responsibility, they will be facing much harsher consequences if a tragedy occurs.”

Under current law, a person is guilty of death by auto 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 hand-held wireless device while driving would give rise to an inference that the defendant was driving recklessly.

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.

The bill would also require the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) to expand the driver’s license examination to include four questions regarding the penalties for using a cell phone while driving a motor vehicle. In addition to the motor vehicle penalties, the questions are to address possible criminal penalties that may be imposed under the bill if illegal cell phone use results in the death or injury of another person.

Finally, the bill would require the MVC to establish a public awareness campaign on the danger posed by using a cell while driving a motor vehicle and the possible criminal penalties that may be imposed if the death or injury of another person occurs.

The provisions of the bill would take effect four months after being signed into law.