TRENTON – It wasn’t unanimous, but the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee forwarded Kulesh and Kubert’s Law today with a 4-0-1 vote.
The bill, S2181, is named after Helen Kulesh who was killed by a person who was using a cell phone while driving, and David and Linda Kubert who were both severely injured by a driver who was illegally using a cell phone.
The Kuberts spoke today about their devastating injuries, with David Kubert raising his pant leg to show the Senate panel what the longstanding effects of illegal cell phone use in the car looks like. Kulesh’s daughter also spoke, and the committee was unanimous on the fact that stricter laws need to be in place to deter the dangerous behavior that led to her mother’s death.
The bill, a bipartisan effort sponsored by state Sens. Ray Lesniak, (D-20), of Elizabeth, and Anthony Bucco, (R-25), of Boonton, 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.
A person is guilty of death by auto 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 would 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.
State Sen. Nick Sacco, (D-32), of North Bergen, abstained from voting because he tended to believe the second-degree offense seemed heavy-handed, and the fourth-degree offense seemed the opposite.
“I really tend to vote against automatic sentencing,” he said. “Third degree seems to be more reasonable (in the case of death, but) fourth-degree offense (for causing) bodily injury seems kind of light.”