TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie today signed a bill into law that will increase penalties for those who exhibit road rage and cause serious harm to others.
“Since New Jersey motorists drive on the nation’s most congested roads, it is of the utmost importance that they act in a rational and safe manner while behind the wheel,” said state Sen. Linda R. Greenstein (D-Plainsboro), a sponsor of the legislation. “When someone drives aggressively and in a rage-filled way, they can cause severe harm to their passengers or people in other cars. When something like this does occur, it is imperative that drivers are held accountable. Now with the enactment of ‘Jessica Rogers’ Law’ we can ensure justice for these victims.”
The law is named after Jessica Rogers, a former Hamilton resident, who in 2005 at the age of 16 was left paralyzed from the chest down in a road rage crash. Rogers was a passenger in a vehicle, in which the driver, enraged after being cut off by another car, began chasing down the other car, weaving in an out of traffic before slamming into a telephone poll. The driver was convicted of two counts of assault by auto and was sentenced to six months in jail and five years probation. He only served four months of his sentence.
The law, S-1468, upgrades the offense of assault by auto or road rage that causes serious bodily injury – injury that causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or a loss or impairment of a body part or organ – to a third degree offense which is punishable by three to five years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $15,000. The law increases the penalty for assault by auto that causes any bodily injury to another – such as pain, illness or an impairment of physical condition – to a fourth degree offense which is punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
Under the law, a person is guilty of operating an automobile in an aggressive manner directed at another vehicle if bodily injury results. This driving is known as “road rage.” Aggressive manner includes, but is not limited to, unexpected altering of speed, erratic and improper lane changes, disregarding traffic control devices such as stop signs and lights, failing to yield the right of way, or following another vehicle too closely.
“It has been seven years since Jessica Rogers became the victim of road rage and she has been dealing with the consequences stemming from that crash every day since. While she spends the rest of her life paralyzed and in a wheelchair, the driver in this crash, who drove irresponsibly and aggressively, walked away with few repercussions including a very short jail sentence and probation,” said Greenstein. “I am proud that the law will now provide that justice be served for these victims and that those who allow their emotions to control them while they drive will hopefully now think twice about the consequences.”
Previously, the only circumstances under which a person faced increased penalties for assault by auto was when the person was driving under the influence or refused to submit to a breath test. This law brings road rage violations that cause bodily harm to the same standards as those imposed for drunk driving.
The law was approved unanimously by both the state Senate and General Assembly last month.
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