On April 14, 2012 an 18 year old high school senior named Nikki Kellenyi was a rear seat passenger in a vehicle with two friends. The vehicle reportedly crashed as a result of driver distraction, resulting in the loss of Nikki Kellenyi's life. Every year in our country thousands of lives are lost as a result of distracted driving related accidents. All of this was the impetus to a newly proposed driver distraction law in the state of New Jersey, also known as Nikki's Law.
The proposed law would make it illegal to, "engage in any activity unrelated to the operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of the vehicle." Fines would range from $200 to $800 with the potential for license suspension with a third repeated offense. Although the law would not necessarily specifically list all activities deemed to be prohibited, such prohibitions could include a wide range of activities from phone use/texting to eating and/or drinking.
Proponents of the new bill state that this law is necessary in order to reduce the thousands of avoidable deaths, that occur every year on our country's roads due to distracted driving. Opponents argue that the law is vague, overly broad and tantamount to a revenue raising mechanism.
In my January 21, 2016 article entitled "The Number One Reason Why People Have Car Accidents", I professed the answer to be none other than driver distraction. The operation of a motor vehicle requires one's complete focus and undivided attention, in order to minimize the chance of accident, injury and death. Driving is a serious responsibility that has no place for unrelated multi-tasking. The proposed law in New Jersey is an extension and codification of that responsibility. However the law as proposed, is largely discretionary and unclear as to exactly what constitutes a violation.
If officers do not consistently exercise prudent discretion in the enforcement of such a law, it could prove problematic. Questions could arise as to whether or not the issuance of a ticket was truly a result of an action that interfered with the safe operation of the vehicle, or more the result of an officer's revenue based need to meet an end of the month quota-like expectation. Still many believe that a law that saves lives, is a law worth having.
If New Jersey passes Nikki's Law, other states will pay close attention to the statistics that follow. If the law proves successful, other states will likely follow with similar legislation. If you drive a car, please do so responsibly of your own volition. Do not wait until a law is passed to exercise common sense when operating a motor vehicle or agreeing to be a passenger in a motor vehicle. The decision is yours to make, with your life and the life of others, potentially depending upon it.
Long Island Lawyer
Paul A. Lauto, Esq.