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Johnson, Karabinchak & Vainieri Huttle Bill to Increase Penalties for Sexual Assault Crimes Committed Against Rideshare Passengers Advances

To strengthen New Jersey statute to increase penalties for certain crimes committed against patrons of ride-share services, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen, Passaic), Robert Karabinchak (D-Middlesex) and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen, Passaic) was approved on Thursday by the full Assembly 75-0.

At the end of 2019, transportation network UBER released a safety report revealing nearly 6,000 incidents of sexual assaults against passengers and drivers.  Recently, Uber and Lyft shared the names of their drivers that were deactivated over sexual assault and other serious incidents.

The sponsors intend to strengthen the current penalty for sexual assault crimes committed by the drivers of rideshare and taxi services.

Assemblyman Johnson, Karabinchak and Vainieri Huttle issued the following statement on the bill:

“Rideshare services have become a popular and more convenient way of getting around for everyone. Let’s face it, it’s the modern-day taxi service.

“As technology impacts public safety, New Jersey’s laws need to reflect the new reality created by rideshare services

“We must ensure these crimes of sexual assault are met with some of the strongest penalties and punishments under New Jersey law.” 

The bill (A-3796) would increase penalties by making it an aggravated sexual assault or an aggravated sexual contact if the actor is a transportation network company driver or a taxicab driver and commits an act of sexual penetration or sexual contact using coercion or without the victim’s affirmative and freely-given permission and the victim is any passenger. This is not currently considered an aggravating factor.

Under current law, an aggravated sexual assault is a crime of the first degree, which is punishable by 10-20 years imprisonment, up to a $200,000 fine, or both.  An aggravated criminal sexual contact is a crime of the third degree, which is punishable by three to five years imprisonment, up to a $15,000 fine, or both.

The bill defines a “transportation network company driver” or “driver” would mean a person who receives connections to potential riders and related services from a transportation network company in exchange for payment of a fee to the transportation network company, and uses a personal vehicle to offer or provide a prearranged ride to a rider upon connection through a digital network controlled by a transportation network company in return for compensation or payment of a fee.