New Jersey bills target impaired, distracted driving

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Monday, November 25, 2013

Two bills in New Jersey would keep any consequences from texting while driving solely the responsibility of the person behind the wheel and make sure the punishment for drugged or drunken driving more closely fits the crime.

One bill in the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee would protect senders of text messages from any potential legal issues if the recipient is involved in a wreck.

A New Jersey appeals court ruling this fall said that someone who sends a text message to someone they know is driving can be held civilly liable if the driver causes a wreck.

Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande, R-Monmouth, said that accountability for distracted driving rests squarely with the driver.

“It is illogical to expect that a text sender can reasonably determine if the recipient is both driving and will read the text immediately. That is an impractical standard,” Casagrande said in a recent news release. “Apparently, protections have to be in place from liability for a person merely sending an electronic communication. You have to wonder when the insanity is going to stop.”

If approved by lawmakers, the bill likely would be signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie. He called the recent court decision “silly.”

Another bill in the Assembly committee would require anyone behind the wheel who is involved in a fatal wreck to provide a blood sample.

New Jersey law now requires police to determine probable cause prior to issuing a blood test.

Dubbed “Michelle’s Law,” the bill would do away with the probable cause requirement following wrecks that result in death. A4464 would deem drivers to have given consent to providing a blood sample to determine if they are under the influence of drugs. The same consent rule applies to drivers suspected of drunken driving.

“By requiring this form of sobriety test, this legislation would allow law enforcement to take direct action in a vehicle accident that causes the death of someone involved,” stated Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, D-Bergen/Passaic.

The bill is named for Michelle Sous. The 17-year-old was struck and killed by a car as she crossed the street. The driver of the vehicle that struck Michelle wasn’t tested for alcohol and drug influence.

“A car accident resulting in loss of life is reason enough to investigate the scene thoroughly,” stated Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen.

Anyone who refuses to consent to the blood test would face the same penalties as a person who refuses a breathalyzer test.

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