New Jersey Court Rules Failure to Make Minor Wear Seatbelt Can be Felony

New Jersey law requires that drivers make sure that any passengers under the age of 18 are wearing their seat belts. Drivers might assume that this is one of those “minor” violations that result in nothing worse than a traffic ticket with a modest fine.

However, the New Jersey Superior Court has upheld a lower court ruling that failing to make sure minors are wearing their seat belts can result in serious criminal charges – felony charges, with jail time – if death or serious bodily injury occurs due to a failure to comply with the law.

In 2007, Hamburg, NJ resident Kirby Lenihan was driving south on Route 519 with a 16-year-old friend, Kimberly Goupil, riding in the front seat. Lenihan lost control of the car and ran head-on into a guardrail. Both had serious injuries; Goupil died in the hospital the following day.

There was evidence that the two had been inhaling aerosols to get high at the time of the accident. Aerosol cans were found in the car, and Lenihan tested positive for a chemical that was in one of the aerosol cans. Despite this evidence, a charge of driving under the influence was dismissed.

Lenihan accepted a plea bargain to a charge of recklessly causing bodily injury to a passenger, and was sentenced to 180 days in jail plus three years of probation (jail time was suspended pending her appeal).

Lenihan’s lawyer argued that seat belt laws were not intended to serve as a basis for prosecution – in other words, “come on, it’s a traffic ticket.”

The court (upheld by the appellate court) disagreed. The court held that someone who fails to make sure minor passengers are properly secured can be charged with criminal negligence. The court found that the seatbelt law is intended to protect both individuals and public safety in general, and drivers that fail to comply with the law can be prosecuted if a minor passenger is killed or injured as a result of the driver failing to make sure the minor’s seat belt is fastened.

The court (upheld by the appellate court) disagreed. The court held that someone who fails to make sure minor passengers are properly secured can be charged with criminal negligence. The court found that the seatbelt law is intended to protect both individuals and public safety in general, and drivers that fail to comply with the law can be prosecuted if a minor passenger is killed or injured as a result of the driver failing to make sure the minor’s seat belt is fastened.

If you or a family member have been the victim of an accident or injury in New Jersey, or if you’ve been charged with a felony for failing to secure a minor with a seatbelt,contact a New Jersey lawyer at the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Hasson, P.C.

Categories:

Receive a Free Consultation from Our Firm

    • Please enter your name.
    • This isn't a valid phone number.
      Please enter your phone number.
    • This isn't a valid email address.
      Please enter your email address.
    • Please make a selection.
    • Please enter a message.
Put Us On Your Side