‘Eileen’s Law’ Would Make It Easier for Prosecutors to Pursue Charges of Reckless Driving
Legislation Assembly Democrats John Wisniewski, Angela McKnight, Nicholas Chiaravalloti and Daniel Benson sponsored to make it easier for prosecutors to ensure justice is served in cases of reckless driving was approved 70-1-1 by the full Assembly on Thursday.
The sponsors noted that the 2015 death of Medford resident Eileen Marmino, a special education teacher and mother of two who died in a crash while riding her bicycle, was the impetus for the legislation. Although the driver had swerved into the bike lane and killed Marmino, the penalty was a considered a traffic violation punishable by a mere $300 fine and no jail time.
“Drivers have a responsibility to focus on the road and stay in their lane while behind the wheel,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “If a motorist isn’t paying attention and ultimately causes someone’s death, the prosecutor ought to be able to ensure that the motorist faces serious consequences.”
The bill (A-4062), to be known as “Eileen’s Law,” would categorize a driver’s failure to stay in his or her lane as “reckless driving” under the state’s vehicular homicide statute. Under the law, criminal homicide is considered vehicular homicide when it is caused by reckless driving. While current law explicitly says that certain indicators – for example, falling asleep at the wheel, driving while intoxicated or using a cell phone while driving – may suggest that a person was driving recklessly, it does not specifically denote that a failure to stay in his or her lane is enough to support the claim that a driver operated a vehicle recklessly.
The legislation would make it clear that vehicular homicide that is a result of a driver’s failure to stay in his or her lane is a crime of the third degree. A third degree crime is punishable by imprisonment of three to five years, a fine of up to $15,000 or both.
“New Jersey needs to eliminate the ambiguity from the law regarding reckless driving,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “Clarifying the law will help prosecutors do their jobs and ensure that irresponsible drivers pay the price for their actions.”
“People who break the law have to face consequences, especially when their actions result in a tragedy like the death of Eileen Marmino,” said Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson). “If a driver swerves out of his or her lane and then kills somebody, it’s a sign that the driver just wasn’t giving full attention to driving. A prosecutor shouldn’t have to go out of the way to make that case.”
“It is unconscionable that prosecutors have not been able to pursue a punishment commensurate with the crime and its impact on the family,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “This change to the law will help make sure justice is served in New Jersey and ultimately help encourage safer driving.”
The measure now awaits further approval from the Senate.