On Friday, New Jersey governor Chris Christie signed into law a bill that stiffens penalties for drivers convicted of road rage.
The law is known as "Jessica Rogers' Law" (PDF), named for a young woman who was paralyzed in 2005 when the car in which she was riding hit a telephone pole. The driver of the car was hurtling to catch up with another vehicle that had cut him off when he lost control of the vehicle. He served four months in jail.
According to the text of the law, if a driver is found guilty of "road rage", it ups the charges, either from a disorderly persons offense to a fourth degree crime, or from a fourth degree to a third degree crime. For example:
Under the provisions of the bill, assault by auto or vessel is upgraded from a crime of the fourth degree to a crime of the third degree if a person operates an auto or vessel recklessly, in knowing disregard of the rights or safety of others, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property and causes serious bodily injury.
With those upgrades come heightened financial penalties and longer possible prison sentences.
The good, the bad
On the one hand, it's impossible to defend road rage. It's obviously very dangerous and can lead to serious injury or death, and in some ways, it's worse than other violent acts because it's being carried out with a machine that weighs a couple of tons.
On the other hand, we don't envy the job facing New Jersey's courts. Determining whether an accident was the result of road rage seems like a fairly tall order. For example, how does one decide whether an accident or reckless driving incident was due to aggressive driving (which, in New Jersey, is a subjective assessment of the officer on site) or to full-on road rage?
And while we're sure that the New Jersey Assembly feels very good about passing Jessica Rogers' Law -- unanimously, even -- we're not entirely sure that it will cut down on the problem itself. Road rage is often considered a crime of passion, and legislating against passion seems...well, it didn't work out so well for the Puritans, did it?
What's your take? Is this a step in the right direction? Or a feel-good measure that fails to address the root of the problem? We'd especially love to hear from folks in New Jersey, but feel free to sound off, where ever you are.
[h/t John Voelcker]