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Measured is named after four New Jersey residents who lost their lives or were seriously injured in car accidents caused by drivers distracted by their cell phones

(TRENTON) – Assemblyman Paul Moriarty on Thursday announced he is introducing legislation to crack down on individuals who endanger others by driving while illegally using a hand-held cell phone.

The bill (A-2199), named “Kulesh, Kubert, and Bolis’ Law” after four New Jersey residents who were either killed or seriously injured by drivers allegedly distracted by their cell phones, adds violation of the hands-free cell phone law to actions considered reckless under the vehicular homicide and assault by auto statues.

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. The bill specifically provides that the illegal use of a cell phone while driving would give rise to an inference that the defendant was driving recklessly. 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.

“Too many people have lost their lives at the hands of drivers who were distracted while talking on, texting or checking their cell phones,” said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Taking your eyes off the road even for a few seconds to check your cell phone could make the difference between life and death, and for some of these families, it did in the most tragic way. Enough is enough.”

Washington Township resident Toni Bolis was just days away from delivering her second child, when she and her unborn son, Ryan, were killed in a head-on crash by a distracted driver in June. The driver allegedly crashed after looking at his cell phone. Elizabeth resident Helen Kulesh was crossing the street when she was hit and killed by a driver talking on her cell phone in February, and Morris County couple David and Linda Kubert each lost a leg when a teen driver, who they say was texting on his cell phone, drove his pickup truck into their Harley-Davidson motorcycle in 2009.

“Wireless phones have become more advanced and carry features that can be entertaining, but also deadly when used behind the wheel,” said Moriarty. “By toughening the penalties for using a cell phone while driving, this bill will help deter people from operating their phones while on the road and spare families from tragedies like the ones experienced by the Bolis, Kulesh and Kubert families.”

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.

In addition, this bill imposes increased fines for multiple offenses of talking on a hand-held wireless telephone or texting a message with a hand held wireless electronic communication device while driving. Under current law, the fine for this motor vehicle violation is $100. This bill would increase that fine to $200 for a first offense, $400 for a second offense, and $600 for third or subsequent offenses. The bill also permits the court at its discretion to impose a 90-day driver’s license suspension for persons convicted of the offense for a third or subsequent time. In addition, third and subsequent offenders would receive three motor vehicle penalty points.

Under the bill, a person convicted of a second offense of driving while talking or texting on a hand-held device would be treated as a first time offender for sentencing purposes if the second offense occurs more than 10 years after the first offense. Similarly, a person convicted of a third offense would be treated as a second time offender for sentencing purposes if the third offense occurs more than ten years after the second offense.