TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie signed a law Friday that can get aggressive drivers up to five years in prison if their behavior behind the wheel causes a serious injury.
“It does not permit you to act out every one of your childish tantrums while behind the wheel of a vehicle,” Christie said as Jessica Rogers, the 23-year-old namesake of the law watched from her wheelchair.
When she was 16, Rogers was among a group of teens riding in a friend’s car. Another vehicle cut them off and the driver she was with became angry and gave chase. The rage ended when the vehicle crashed into a telephone pole. Rogers was paralyzed from the chest down.
Over the past seven years, she’s been through two dozen surgeries.
The driver ended up getting four months in jail.
Rogers and her family were so disheartened by what they saw as lax punishment that they started talking with lawmakers about being tougher on aggressive drivers.
It took five years for lawmakers to agree on the wording of the bill, which ultimately passed unanimously in both chambers of the Legislature.
“I hope it will make people think before they act,” said Rogers, who lives in Hamilton and aspires to become a psychologist, “whether they’re flipping people off, yelling at people, cutting people off.”
Anne Teigen, who has tracked aggressive-driving legislation for the past six years for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said New Jersey’s is the only law she knows of that deals with road rage through an assault-by-auto statute. Eleven states have separate aggressive driving laws, she said.
Under the new law here, aggressive drivers who cause injuries are subject to the same penalties as those who cause injuries while driving drunk.
Those who cause serious injuries can be sentenced to five years in prison. Those responsible for minor injuries could be sentenced to 18 months.
Christie said road rage seems to be a bigger problem in New Jersey than elsewhere—perhaps because it’s a densely populated state where roads are often crowded and residents are known for having a bit of an attitude.
He said he’s seen it firsthand from the caravan of black SUVs in which he travels. He said one woman was so upset that she wasn’t allowed to drive between the two vehicles in the governor’s motorcade that she threw things at the governor’s vehicle.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)