New Jersey Point-Forgiveness Bill Clears Senate

A New Jersey bill that raises fines charged against repeat violators of unsafe driving statutes and clarifies when assessment points should be added to their driving record moved a step closer to becoming law after receiving unanimous approval from senators Thursday.

The state Senate passed S 82, authored by Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Hunterdon), by a 39-0 vote.

NJ Drivers Can Opt for Fines Instead of Points

In New Jersey, some drivers can elect to pay increased fines instead of receiving points on their record for violating “unsafe driving” statues, which include offenses like improper turns and leaving the scene of an accident.
Drivers in the state sometimes opt for inflated fines instead of points because such points make their New Jersey car coverage rates “rise at a much higher cost than fines,” Bateman said in a statement.

For first-time offenders, those fines range from $50 to $150. For second-time offenders, the fines range from $100 to $250. On third and subsequent offenses, the fines range from $200 to $500. Each offense also includes a $250 surcharge.

The bill would double the minimum fine for motorists with four or more offenses from $250 to $500.

Repeat violators should be wary of ducking points too many times. On a third violation, the points that were “forgiven” in lieu of fines kick in and the offender will see four points charged to his or her 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, in an October email to Online Auto Insurance News.

S 82 was written to clear up what 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 point-forgiveness, according to Bateman.

“That interferes with the legislative goal of providing a defined mechanism for relief to certain motorists,” Rosen said.

S 82 sets a maximum for forgiveness eligibility at two times in five years.

“This bill makes point forgiveness available to motorists convicted at least five years after a last conviction, not an initial conviction,” Bateman said.

S 82 has reached this exact juncture in the state Legislature before; the bill was unanimously approved out of the Senate in May 2009 but ultimately stalled in the state Assembly before reappearing in its latest form in January this year.

“There is no excuse for the Assembly’s inaction on this legislation,” Rosen said in an email.

Points Have Varying Impacts on Insurance

There are several ways that points can impact your insurance rates, but they often depend on your insurance company and where you are.

Generally, insurers will charge drivers with points on their record more because they are riskier bets as a policyholder.

In a report on driving behaviors and crash rates, Progressive said that points are the second-most-powerful indicator of expected claims costs.

In California, motorists with more than two points on their driving records are ineligible for a state-mandated “good driver discount” that cuts insurance premiums by 20 percent, so a motorist with several points can lose that discount and be forced to pay higher premiums.

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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