NJ Considers Tougher Penalties for Distracted Driving – A4062

On Thursday, January 19, 2017, the Assembly Transportation Committee will hear Assembly bill A4062, sponsored by Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Assemblywoman Angela McKnight. According to the bill description, this legislation “would allow prosecutors to more easily obtain conviction for vehicular homicide against a person who failed to maintain lane due to distracted driving.”  If passed, the law would allow prosecutors who are seeking to convict someone of vehicular homicide to cite distracted driving as proof of recklessness. Using a hand-held wireless telephone has already been added to the definition of distracted driving under currently law, and this bill would expand the definition further to include inattentive driving that results in the unsafe operation of a motor vehicle due to the driver engaging in any of the following: reading, writing, performing personal grooming, eating, drinking, interacting with passengers, pets or unsecured cargo, or engaging in any other activity that causes distractions.

Eileen Marmino, a 34-year-old married mother of 17-month-old twins, was struck and killed by a distracted driver while riding her bicycle in July, 2015. She was killed on her wedding anniversary.

Both of the Prime Sponsors for A4062 are Democrats, but with Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg and Assemblyman Joe Howarth–both Republicans–signed on as co-sponsors, the Assembly bill now has bi-partisan support.  The Senate version, S2342 (also known as “Eileen’s Law”, for accident victim Eileen Marmino, killed in July 2015), already boasts strong bi-partisan support, as it is prime sponsored by Republican Senator Dawn Addiego and Democratic Senator Patrick Diegnan. S2342 was released unanimously from the Senate Law & Public Safety Committee on September 29, 2016, and referred to the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee, where it awaits further action.

Assemblyman Wisniewski, who is also the Chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, took quite a bit of flack back in August, 2016 for a bill he filed (A1908) that called for steep fines to be assessed on distracted drivers. A local news organization ran headlines that motorists could soon be ticketed for drinking coffee, and a pile-on of derision ensued, with affronted motorists crying “Nanny State” and extolling on their right to eat a hoagie while flying down the NJ Turnpike.  The Transportation Committee put both A4062 and A1908 up for public discussion only on September 22, 2016, along with two other bills relating to distracted driving (A854, which calls for the creation of a Distracted Driving Task Force, and A4005 which would add questions about Distracted Driving to the NJ Driver’s Licensing exam). On Thursday,  A4062 will be heard for potential release from Committee, a necessary step in getting the bill put before the full legislature for a vote.  To hear the discussion on these bills, you can listen to the archived recording HERE. Discussion on the bills begins at the 33:07 mark. (Playback works best with Internet Explorer.)

While KEEP NJ SAFE supports the protection of an individual’s personal freedoms, without unnecessary or intrusive intervention by the government, we believe that a strengthening of the distracted driving laws are long overdue. On a recent drive to the Statehouse in Trenton, we spotted several motorists swerving dangerously over into the adjacent travel lane. In each case, the drivers were reading and/or looking down intently at their phones while texting. This behavior has to stop, and it is becoming more and more obvious that motorists are not doing enough to regulate themselves. There must be accountability when a driver allows unnecessary tasks to impede their ability to safely operate a car to the point where they are taking the life of another human being. Yes, folks, you CAN wait until you get to the office to have that cup of coffee, or wake up a few minutes sooner and have it at home. Isn’t 10 extra minutes worth saving a life?

The 2016 year-end statistics recently released by the NJ State Police Fatal Accident Investigation Unit are frightening, and cannot be ignored  Fatalities for 2016 were up 8% over the previous year (a 12% increase in the number of deaths reported in 2013). A total of 607 people lost their lives in fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2016–and 166 of those deaths were pedestrians struck by a car.

Eileen Marmino’s infant twins, who are now forced to grow up without her in their lives.

One of the things that many people seem to forget when they read statistics like these, is that as bad as the numbers seem on the surface, the actual number of “victims” is far, far greater.  Not only did 607 people lose their lives last year, but thousands of family members, friends, neighbors and community members were also deeply hurt and forever affected by the tragic loss of a loved one. Eileen Marmino left behind her devastated husband Paul, and 1-year-old twins, Joey & Ellie. Her parents, Bruce and Eileen, testified before the Senate Law & Public Safety Committee last September, and I expect they will do so again this week when the Assembly hears A4062.  The pain they have endured is one that every parent fears most: losing a child. And yet, they are once again revisiting the tragic circumstances that took their daughter’s life, in an effort to save other parents from experiencing the same suffering.

If you would like to express your support for A4062, please email the Assembly Transportation Committee members as soon as possible, and ask them to release the bill after it is heard on Thursday.   Their email addresses are as follows:

asmwisniewski@njleg.org, aswhuttle@njleg.org, asmbenson@njleg.org, aswchaparro@njleg.org, asmchiaravalloti@njleg.org, asmclifton@njleg.org, aswdecroce@njleg.org, asmgiblin@njleg.org, asmkennedy@njleg.org, asmmcguckin@njleg.org, asmmoriarty@njleg.org, aswoliver@njleg.org