(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly members Wayne DeAngelo and Dan Benson (both D-Mercer/Middlesex) to crack down on reckless and aggressive drivers after a Mercer County incident left a teen-age girl paralyzed received final legislative approval on Thursday.
The bill was approved by the Assembly with an 80-0 vote and the Senate with a 39-0 vote, and now heads to the governor’s desk.
“Any driver who allows their rage to control their actions behind the wheel essentially turns their vehicle into a deadly weapon,” said DeAngelo. “A simple slap on the wrist or ticket can no longer do.”
The bill (A-2139) – dubbed “Jessica Rogers’ Law” – would add a new category of assault by auto or vessel to address driving in an aggressive manner, commonly known as “road rage.”
The bill, named in honor of Jessica Rogers, a young woman from Hamilton, New Jersey who suffered severe injuries when the individual she was driving with became afflicted with road rage, would make it a crime to drive an auto or vessel in an aggressive manner directed at another vehicle resulting in bodily injury or serious bodily injury.
Under the bill, driving in an aggressive manner may include, but is not limited to, unexpectedly altering the speed of the vehicle, making improper or erratic traffic lane changes, disregarding traffic control devices, failing to yield the right of way, or following another vehicle too closely.
“Road rage is more than just an attitude; it can be a real threat to others. Drivers who senselessly disregard the safety of the public must be held accountable,” said Benson. “I hope this bill will serve as a wake-up call for many and help prevent road rage in New Jersey.”
Jessica, who was 16 at the time of the accident, 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. 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.
Under the bill, it would be a crime of the fourth degree if the aggressive driver causes bodily injury (such as physical pain, illness or any impairment of physical condition), and a crime of the third degree if the aggressive driver causes serious bodily injury (for example, an injury creating a substantial risk of death, or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of function of any bodily member or organ).
A crime of the fourth degree is punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000 or both. A crime of the third degree is punishable by a term of imprisonment of three to five years, a fine up to $15,000 or both.