New Jersey approves harsher road rage penalties

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/28/2012

A bill on its way to the governor’s desk is intended to help curb road rage on the New Jersey roadways.

The Assembly voted unanimously to advance a bill to Gov. Chris Christie that would boost the punishment for anyone who drives recklessly in an attempt to endanger someone. Dubbed “Jessica’s Law,” the bill – S1468 – was already approved by unanimous consent in the Senate.

The effort is named for Jessica Rogers of Hamilton, NJ. At age 16, Rogers suffered severe injuries and was paralyzed from the neck down following a March 2005 wreck that resulted from an incident with another vehicle. The driver of the vehicle she was riding in hit a pole while trying to catch a car that cut him off. The driver was sentenced to six months in jail and five years probation.

This is the fourth consecutive session that legislation has been offered to address road rage. The first two efforts advanced from committee but didn’t come up for consideration before the full chamber. The 2011 version was endorsed by the Assembly, but it remained in a Senate committee when the session adjourned.

Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex, said action is long overdue.

“These aggressive drivers must be held accountable when they cause injury to others, and we must ensure that they are adequately punished for the crimes they commit,” Greenstein said in a statement.

If signed into law, the maximum penalty for driving recklessly would be five years in prison – up from 18 months in current law. Offenders would also face up to $15,000 fines – up from $10,000.

Offenses that would constitute aggressive driving include sudden changes in speed, erratic and improper lane changes, or following too closely.

“Any driver who allows their rage to control their actions behind the wheel essentially turns their vehicle into a deadly weapon,” stated Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, D-Mercer. “A simple slap on the wrist or ticket can no longer do.”

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