December 08, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/ -- New Jersey recently adopted a tough new law to fight distracted driving. The legislation was named in honor of people who had been seriously hurt or killed in motor vehicle accidents caused by distracted drivers.
Legislators pushed to strengthen New Jersey's distracted driving law after three tragic accidents drew public attention to the problem. In one, an 89-year-old woman was hit by a driver who was using a cellphone. Similar accidents took the lives of a pregnant woman and her unborn son and seriously injured a Dover Township couple.
Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno commented that texting and driving is essentially equivalent to drinking and driving. It should go without saying that both kinds of activity are dangerous and must be prohibited.
Stronger penalties now in effect
The new law went into effect immediately. Under the earlier law, if there was proof that a person was driving recklessly when a serious or fatal accident happened, the person could be found guilty of assault or death by auto. Now, the new law states explicitly that illegal use of a cellphone while driving creates an assumption that the motorist was driving recklessly.
As a result of the change, prosecutors will be able to obtain convictions for death or assault by auto much more easily in cases where a driver was texting or otherwise distracted by a cellphone.
Death by auto is a second degree crime that can bring a prison sentence of five to 10 years, a fine of up to $150,000 or both. Causing serious bodily injury is called assault by auto and is punishable as a fourth degree crime. Offenders convicted of a fourth degree crime can be sentenced to as much as 18 months in prison, fined up to $18,000 or both.
Distracted driving in context
Besides commemorating some victims of distracted driving, the new law also recognizes a stark truth: distracted driving is more deadly than ever.
According to state police, in 2011 New Jersey recorded 178 fatal accidents due to driver inattention. This was the second year in a row in which deaths due to distracted driving surpassed deaths due to unsafe speed.
The problem is so acute that United States safety agencies will soon be promoting a major campaign aimed at reducing distracted driving, comparable to previous safety campaigns to promote seat belt use and reduce drunk driving.
If someone is injured or killed in a New Jersey automobile accident due to the negligence of a distracted driver, it is worthwhile to consult a personal injury attorney. Compensation may be available for pain and suffering, as well as medical costs and lost wages.