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2012 Distracted Driving Law Rarely Used

7-24-14

By Christie Duffy
Correspondent

“Kulesh, Kubert and Bolis’ Law” was named for New Jersey residents who suffered life changing injuries or who were killed in distracted driving crashes. It was signed in July of 2012. But today..

“We just had the two-year mark with the law being passed and so far in the state of New Jersey there hasn’t been anyone prosecuted,” said Washington Township resident Angela Donato whose sister was killed in a crash.

“This new law is good, but it’s very hard to prove,” said People Against Distracted Driving President Mike Kellenyi.

Kellenyi lost his 18-year-old daughter Nikki, a high school senior.

Donato lost her sister, for whom the law was named. She was 9 months pregnant.

Both say it was a struggle to get driver phone records. And when they did it was tough to prosecute.

“There were 30 texts sent back and forth and in the last minute before the crash there were four texts sent,” Kellenyi said.

The drivers in both cases ended up losing their licenses for a matter of months and each paid fines. The distracted driving law passed in 2012 was meant to bring stricter punishment to drivers who are proven to be distracted by a cell phone behind the wheel.

“I don’t believe that this law has been effectively enforced since it was signed. If it were, I think we’d see more cases where people were being charged,” Assemblyman Paul Moriarty said.

NJTV News reached out to seven prosecutors from around the state. A spokesperson for one office hadn’t even heard of the law. Others have heard of it but none had filed charges under it.

Statewide reports indicate few charges have been filed, with none resulting in convictions.

“The law gives police the ability to bring charges of vehicular homicide if someone is using their cell phone inappropriately. The problem is it is very difficult to make these cases and to prove them. You almost need a witness that says, ‘I saw them drive by and they were texting on their phone,’” Moriarty said.

This June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled police must have a warrant to search cell phones.

“I understand there is rights but really, especially in the case of a death like my daughter’s, there should be no question that should be an exemption and they should take the phone. It’s just like drinking and driving. If they go in there and there is beer in the car they are gonna take the beer, and that’s evidence,” Kellenyi said.

Assemblyman Moriarty says police need more technological training is needed.

“Not every police officer knows every phone there is on the market. If people are using something like iMessage, a lot of those records aren’t still there. They just are not on any server,” he said.

Albeit a challenge, Moriarty and others say There’s no excuse for a lack of enforcement.

“When is it going to stop? Whether we put as many people as we can in jail, when is it going to be enough?” asked Donato.