By a vote of 73-2, the General Assembly granted final approval to legislation sponsored by Assembly Speaker-elect Vincent Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson), Assemblyman Charles Mainor (D-Hudson) and Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez (D-Bergen/Hudson) to make “jitneys” or autobuses safer by holding owners and operators accountable for ensuring the safety of riders and the public.
The bill (A-4546) establishes a Bill of Rights for Customers of Certain Autobuses. The bill, designated as Angelie’s Law, is named after 8-month-old Angelie Paredes, who was killed by a lamppost that was struck by a jitney driver who was using his cell phone.
“These autobuses are convenient, but seem to operate with little accountability, which makes them dangerous. This lack of responsibility cost a little girl her life,” said Prieto. “This bill of rights spells out expectations for operators and drivers to ensure the safety of riders and the public.”
“I rode a jitney last year and saw how often safety takes a back seat to profit, for some of these drivers. These operators are responsible for the safe transport of riders, safe being the key word,” said Mainor. “We cannot allow them to continue to play Russian roulette with the lives of their costumers.”
“Many working families depend on these autobuses as an inexpensive means to get to and from work, but shouldn’t forfeit their safety for it,” said Jimenez. “These autobuses have operated with impunity for too long. If public safety is not a priority for them, this bill ensures that it becomes so.”
The bill of rights created by the bill provides customer protections, obligations of the owners and operators of autobuses, and basic expectations and guarantees of health, safety, and welfare as follows:
· The owner of an autobus is required to provide clear and conspicuous notice of customer complaint contact information by prominently displaying the telephone number on the interior and exterior of the autobus where customers may direct complaints.
· The owner of an autobus is required to respond to all complaints in a timely fashion and work to resolve any problems customers encounter regarding unsafe, poor, or inadequate service.
· The owner of an autobus is required ensure that all autobus operators are well-trained.
· The operator of an autobus is prohibited from allowing the number of passengers to exceed the number the autobus can safely accommodate.
· The operator of an autobus is required to ensure that the autobus is clean, well-maintained, and in good working condition at all times.
· The operator of an autobus is prohibited from smoking, using a cellular telephone, or engaging in other actions that may endanger the health, safety, or welfare of passengers.
· The operator of an autobus is required to comply with all federal and State laws governing the safe operation of a motor vehicle.
The Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs in the Department of Law and Public Safety is required to establish the telephone number riders can call for complaints; and initiate, investigate, attempt to resolve, and if necessary refer to the Attorney General any matters or complaints concerning violations of the bill of rights. The penalty for a violation is a civil penalty of no more than $1,000 for a first violation, $2,000 for a second violation, and $5,000 for a third or subsequent violation.
This bill also prohibits an owner of an autobus from allowing any operator of an autobus from operating an autobus without a valid commercial driver license. The penalty for a violation is a fine of $1,500 for a first violation, $3,000 for a second violation, and $5,000 for a third or subsequent violation. Under current law, a driver who operates a commercial motor vehicle without a valid commercial driver license is subject to a fine, but there is no penalty for the owner of the vehicle.
Finally, the bill requires a police officer to obtain a blood sample from an operator of an autobus if the autobus is involved in an accident resulting in the death or serious bodily injury of any person. However, the police officer is not required to obtain a blood sample if the police officer determines that the operator of the autobus did not contribute in any way to the accident.
The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk.