Assembly Panel Advances Bill To Increase Penalties For Drivers Who Cause Accidents While Using Cell Phones

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TRENTON – The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on Thursday approved legislation that would crack down on anyone who kills or injures another person while driving and illegally using a cell phone.

“Tragedies like the ones the Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis families endured are made all the more tragic by the fact that they could have been avoided if the other driver hadn’t been so careless,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union). “Hopefully these stiffer penalties will be a wake-up call to drivers who are willing to put their own life, as well as those of innocent other people, at risk.”

The bill (A-1074-2199) is named “Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis’ Law” after Helen Kulesh who was tragically killed by a person who was using a cell phone while driving, David and Linda Kubert who were both severely injured by a driver who was illegally using a cell phone, and Toni Bolis and her unborn son, Ryan Jeffrey Bolis, who died in a motor vehicle accident that was allegedly caused by a person who was using a cell phone while driving.

The bill would make it easier for prosecutors to obtain convictions for vehicular homicide or assault by auto against a person who illegally uses a cell phone while driving and, as a result, kills or injures someone. Under current law, a person is guilty of death or assault by auto when it is proven that he or she drove a motor vehicle recklessly. This bill specifically provides that the illegal use of a cell phone while driving may give rise to an inference that the defendant was driving recklessly.

Vehicular homicide is generally a crime of the second degree, punishable by imprisonment of five to ten years, a fine of up to $150,000, or both. Assault by auto is a crime of the fourth degree if serious bodily injury occurs and a disorderly persons offense if bodily injury occurs. A fourth degree crime is punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. The penalty for a disorderly persons offense is imprisonment for up to six months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

The bill was released unanimously.

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