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Bill Spurred by Tragic Death of Sara Dubinin & Delayed Notification of Her Parents

(TRENTON) — Legislation sponsored by Assemblymen John S. Wisniewski, Craig J. Coughlin (both D-Middlesex) and Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) to create a next-of-kin registry to be utilized to notify family when a loved one is incapacitated in a serious accident received final legislative approval in the Assembly Thursday.

The measure previously was unanimously approved 78-0 by the Assembly in June, and an amended version unanimously passed the Senate in December. The Assembly vote today was to concur with the Senate amendments.

The measure (A-2592), entitled Sara’s Law, is named in honor of Sara Dubinin, a 19-year-old Sayreville resident who was critically injured and incapacitated in a car accident in September 2007.

It took emergency personnel an hour and a half to notify her parents of the accident and, by the time they arrived at the hospital, she had already slipped into a coma. Sara died the next morning having never awoken.

“As a parent, I cannot imagine a worse feeling than not knowing my children were in danger and, because of that, not being able to be there for them when they needed me most,” said Wisniewski, chairman of the Assembly’s transportation panel. “In a crisis situation, a handful of minutes could mean the difference between life and death. And for the Dubinins, having an extra 90 minutes might have meant they would have been able to say goodbye to their daughter.”

Under Sara’s Law, the holder of any New Jersey state driver’s license or non-driver identification card would have the opportunity to voluntarily electronically submit the name and telephone number of two emergency contacts to the Motor Vehicle Commission.

If a registered individual was subsequently involved in a motor vehicle accident that results in serious injury, death or incapacitation, law enforcement personnel would utilize the registry to notify the individual’s emergency contacts.

“The Dubinin’s story is terrible and it would be a larger tragedy if we did not put in place a mechanism to prevent this from happening again,” said Coughlin. “There is no reason why we should not have a system in place to notify family members in a timely manner whenever tragedy strikes.”

“All contact information submitted through the registry would only be accessible to certain MVC employees and law enforcement, but the information would not be subject to public disclosure under the Open Public Records Act,” Prieto said. “So this information will be protected and only be used when needed the most.”

In addition, the measure would lower the age limit for a MVC-issued non-driver identification card from age 17 to age 14, though anyone under 17 would need parental consent to get the card.

Any parent obtaining a non-driver identification card for their child would be able to designate themselves as the emergency registry contact. The sponsors hope this would increase the number of teenage participants in the next-of-kin registry.

The bill was amended so it would take effect in 18 months, coinciding with a state Motor Vehicle Commission computer upgrade. The bill, which passed the Assembly 75-0, now heads to the governor, who may sign it, veto it or modify it in the form of a conditional veto.