3 Potential New Laws On Buses, Reckless Driving

TRENTON — Making their way through the Legislature are three potential new laws that would affect virtually every New Jersey driver, with two of the measures potentially saving lives.

Here's a rundown:

1. Stop means Stop!

In New Jersey, state law requires vehicles to stop when school buses pick up or drop off children. Too often, that just doesn't happen — with tragic results. In 2013, six children were struck and killed by vehicles as they crossed the street to board or after exiting a school bus, according to the National School Bus Loading and Unloading Survey.

According to state Sen. James Holzapfel, R-Ocean, current measures don't deter drivers.  And if there isn't a police officer nearby, violators are unlikely to get a ticket.

Holzapfel sponsored a bill establishing a pilot program for municipalities or school districts to install cameras on school buses, which would record vehicles unlawfully passing.

If signed into law, footage of all alleged passing violations would be forwarded to local police departments. Summons would be issued to the owner or lessee of any vehicle caught passing a school bus.

"We need to show drivers who think they can get away with passing a school bus that they are being watched," Holzapfel said in a statement. "Sadly, this might be the only way we get them to stop."

The bill also toughens penalties for unlawfully passing a school bus, with a $300 to $500 fine and five driver's license points, dedicated to general municipal or school district purposes. If the alleged violator agrees to a negotiated plea deal, the bill institutes a mandatory $300 surcharge on top of any other fine or penalty.

"We hear about this all the time from bus drivers. Even if they have their lights on, drivers still try to pass them," Holzapfel said. "This foolish and dangerous behavior has to stop and it won't stop unless we can monitor it and enforce our laws."

The bill passed the Senate, 30-1. The Assembly is yet to consider an identical version of the bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-Burlington.

2. Charge!

If signed into law, a bill sponsored by Sens. Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex, and Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, would require the state's toll road authorities to install charging stations for electric cars at rest stops along the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway.

The bill requires a minimum of two charging stations at three rest stops on both the Turnpike and Parkway within 18 months, through contracts issued by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. The South Jersey Transportation Authority would be required to place two chargers at each rest stop along the Atlantic City Expressway within one year of enactment.

All charging stations would have to provide at least "level 3 charging," the fastest currently available.

“Increasing access to charging stations will not only benefit those who already own electric vehicles but will also encourage future buyers to make the switch and jumpstart our alternative fuel industry," Greenstein said in a statement.

According to the Department of Transportation, there were nearly 589,000 electric cars in New Jersey in 2015. In 2015, Tesla Motors began installing its "superchargers" at Parkway and Turnpike rest stops.

The bill passed the Senate by a 32-2 vote.

3. Stay between the lines

Under current law, operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, using a cell phone while driving or falling asleep at the wheel could be considered "reckless driving." But under the proposed "Eileen's Law," the charge would also include a driver's failure to maintain their lane.

The bill was inspired by the death of Medford teacher Eileen Marmino, struck and killed while riding her bicycle by a vehicle that swerved into the bike lane. In that case, the driver was charged with only a traffic violation and issued a $300 fine, without jail time.

If "Eileen's Law" is passed, the driver would have been charged with vehicular homicide, with a three-to-five-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $15,000.

"Drivers have a responsibility to focus on the road and stay in their lane while behind the wheel,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, a bill sponsor and gubernatorial candidate. “If a motorist isn’t paying attention and ultimately causes someone’s death, the prosecutor ought to be able to ensure that the motorist faces serious consequences."

The bill was passed by the Assembly transportation committee, which Wisniewski chairs. It will now head to the Assembly for a full vote.

Original Article