‘Jessica Rogers’ Law’ Toughens Penalties Under State’s Assault by Auto Statute
A bill sponsored by the 14th District Legislative team of Senator Linda R. Greenstein, Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo and Assemblyman Dan Benson, along with Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, that increases penalties for those who exhibit road rage and cause serious harm to others was signed into law today by Governor Chris Christie.
“Since New Jersey motorists drive on the nation’s most congested roads, it is of the utmost importance that they act in a rational and safe manner while behind the wheel,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Plainsboro). “When someone drives aggressively and in a rage-filled way, they can cause severe harm to their passengers or people in other cars. When something like this does occur, it is imperative that drivers are held accountable. Now with the enactment of ‘Jessica Rogers’ Law’ we can ensure justice for these victims.”
“Any driver who allows their rage to control their actions behind the wheel essentially turns their vehicle into a deadly weapon,” said Assemblyman DeAngelo (D-Hamilton). “A simple slap on the wrist or ticket can no longer do. In the most densely populated state in the nation, we’re bound to encounter frustrating driving situations from time-to-time. I hope this law will serve as a wake-up call for drivers to lighten up and help avoid future tragedies.”
“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 Assemblyman Benson (D-Hamilton). “We’ve seen how one person’s senseless behavior irreparably altered the life of a young woman. Hopefully this new law will help give other’s pause before they consider doing the same.”
The law is named after Jessica Rogers, a former Hamilton resident, who in 2005 at the age of 16 was left paralyzed from the chest down in a road rage crash. Jessica was a passenger in a vehicle, in which the driver, enraged after being cut off by another car, began chasing down the other car, weaving in an out of traffic before slamming into a telephone poll. The driver was convicted of two counts of assault by auto and was sentenced to six months in jail and five years probation. He only served four months of his sentence.
“Most car accidents are just that – an accident. When they’re caused by road rage or aggressive motivations, they no longer are,” said Assemblyman Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “And when they result in the type of senseless acts, like the one that altered Jessica Rogers life, it becomes a tragedy. Everyone needs to act more judiciously behind the wheel, but for those who might be prone to do otherwise, hopefully this new law sends a strong message to think twice.”
The law, S-1468, upgrades the offense of assault by auto or road rage that causes serious bodily injury – injury that causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or a loss or impairment of a body part or organ – to a third degree offense which is punishable by three to five years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $15,000. The law increases the penalty for assault by auto that causes any bodily injury to another – such as pain, illness or an impairment of physical condition – to a fourth degree offense which is punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
Under the law, a person is guilty of operating an automobile in an aggressive manner directed at another vehicle if bodily injury results. This driving is known as “road rage.” Aggressive manner includes, but is not limited to, unexpected altering of speed, erratic and improper lane changes, disregarding traffic control devices such as stop signs and lights, failing to yield the right of way, or following another vehicle too closely.
“It has been seven years since Jessica Rogers became the victim of road rage and she has been dealing with the consequences stemming from that crash every day since. While she spends the rest of her life paralyzed and in a wheelchair, the driver in this crash, who drove irresponsibly and aggressively, walked away with few repercussions including a very short jail sentence and probation,” said Senator Greenstein. “I am proud that the law will now provide that justice be served for these victims and that those who allow their emotions to control them while they drive will hopefully now think twice about the consequences.”
Previously, the only circumstances under which a person faced increased penalties for assault by auto was when the person was driving under the influence or refused to submit to a breath test. This law brings road rage violations that cause bodily harm to the same standards as those imposed for drunk driving.
The Legislators note that while this change in law may not have changed the outcome of Jessica Rogers’ story, it would have ensured that the person responsible for her injuries received a just punishment for his actions.
The law was approved unanimously by both the State Senate and General Assembly last month.