(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Law and Public Safety Chairman Charles Mainor, Assemblymen Daniel Benson and Benjie Wimberly to increase the penalties for driving drunk with a minor as a passenger in the motor vehicle was released Thursday by an Assembly panel.
Under current law, a parent or guardian who is convicted of drunk driving is guilty of a disorderly persons offense if, at the time of the violation, the parent or guardian has a minor as a passenger in the motor vehicle. A disorderly persons offense is punishable by imprisonment of up to six months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
“Driving drunk is irresponsible in any circumstance, but it’s even more offensive to do so with a child in the vehicle,” said Mainor (D-Hudson). “A disorderly persons offense is not enough for driving drunk with a minor. We need to send a stronger message that we find such dangerous behavior completely unacceptable.”
“We’re talking about child endangerment,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “Drunk driving is wholly unacceptable but it is even more delinquent when a minor is a passenger of the vehicle. A tougher penalty makes it clear that we will not tolerate in New Jersey this type of recklessness when it comes to a life of a child.”
“Parents or guardians have a responsibility to protect the children under their watch,” Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). “It’s incredibly irresponsible to get behind the wheel while intoxicated. If they choose to operate a vehicle under the influence and their irresponsibility causes serious injury to the passenger, then they should be ready to face the consequences.”
Under the bill (A-825), a parent or guardian who is convicted of drunk driving with a minor as a passenger would still be guilty of a disorderly persons offense, but the parent or guardian would be guilty of a crime of the fourth degree under the bill if the violation results in bodily injury to the minor. Fourth degree crimes are punishable by imprisonment of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
The parent or guardian would be guilty of a third degree crime under the bill if the violation results in serious bodily injury to the minor. Third degree crimes are punishable by imprisonment of three to five years, a fine of up to $15,000, or both.
The bill defines “bodily injury” as physical pain, illness or any impairment of physical condition, while “serious bodily injury” is defined as bodily injury that creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.
The bill was released by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.