Senate Committee Advances New Jersey Point-Forgiveness Bill

A piece of New Jersey legislation meant to clarify assessment of point penalties for unsafe driving was approved in the Senate Transportation Committee Monday. The legislation could have auto insurance implications for motorists repeatedly cited for unsafe driving.

In New Jersey, violation of “unsafe driving” statues allows for payment of inflated fines in lieu of point penalties on a driving record. Such violations range from excessive speeding to tailgating to failure to obey traffic signs.

Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Hunterdon), who authored S 82, said in a statement that “these points often cause auto insurance rates to rise at a much higher cost than fines,” attracting drivers who would rather pay fines and surcharges than face costlier New Jersey vehicle coverage because of points.

Currently, each offense carries a $250 surcharge in addition to the fine. The fine ranges from $50 to $150 on a first offense, from $100 to $250 on a second offense, and from $200 to $500 on third and subsequent offenses.

Points that are usually assigned for violations, such as speeding, can be forgiven under the unsafe driving statutes until the third violation, when four points are charged to a motorist’s record.

To incur the four-point penalty, current law requires that the third offense be within five years of the previous offense. But judges have been unclear as to when to assign those points, and some have questioned “whether a third conviction, five years after a first conviction, warrants points,” said Jeremy Rosen, press secretary for the state Senate republican office.

“There has been a lack of uniformity in understanding among practitioners, courts and the Motor Vehicle Commission as to the proper calculation of eligibility for the benefits of this statute,” he stated in an email. “That interferes with the legislative goal of providing a defined mechanism for relief to certain motorists.”

S 82 clears up that interference, seeking to cap forgiveness eligibility with a maximum of two times in five years and setting “clearly defined time periods for the assessment of penalty points,” according to Rosen.

“This bill states point forgiveness can be available for motorists convicted five years after their last conviction, not their first conviction,” he said.

Also, Bateman’s bill doubles the minimum fine for motorists with four or more offenses from $250 to $500.

Bateman’s bill had previously passed the state Senate in 2009 but eventually stalled in the state Assembly. Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) signed on to co-sponsor the bill in the last legislative session.

“Senator Bateman is happy to see this bill again advanced by a Senate committee and urges the full Senate re-approve this measure,” said Rosen.

Several points on a driving record can inflate insurance premiums, as insurers around the U.S. view the presence of points as increased risk for coverage and subsequently charge higher coverage costs.

In California, more than two points makes a motorist ineligible for a state-mandated 20 percent discount on premiums for good drivers. That means a motorist incurring several points can lose that discount and, ultimately, pay higher premiums.

About Ben Zitney
Benjamin Zitney has been covering the auto insurance industry for the past 2.5 years. Before coming to Online Auto Insurance News, he produced an extensive company history of the 30-year-old California Joint Powers Insurance Authority and worked at the Cal State Long Beach Daily Forty-Niner as a reporter, copy editor and news editor.

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