SENATE, No. 1226

 

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

 

211th LEGISLATURE

 

INTRODUCED FEBRUARY 24, 2004

 

 

Sponsored by:

Senator BOB SMITH

District 17 (Middlesex and Somerset)

Senator FRED MADDEN

District 4 (Camden and Gloucester)

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

    Requires DOT to prepare transportation plan for senior citizens; appropriates $3 million therefor; finances senior citizen safe driving health centers with $8 levy on motor vehicle violations; and reduces automobile insurance premium of seniors using centers.

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

    As introduced.

 


An Act establishing senior citizen safe driving health centers, protecting senior citizen drivers, amending R.S.39:5-41, supplementing Title 39 of the Revised Statutes and making an appropriation.

 

    Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

 

    1. (New section) This act shall be known and may be cited as the "Uniform Senior Citizens Safe Driving Health Centers and Protection of Senior Citizen Pedestrians and Automobile Passengers Act."

 

    2. (New section) The Legislature finds and declares:

    a. Senior citizen drivers, passengers and pedestrians are now confronting a crisis of safety on our highways, both in New Jersey and in the nation.

    b. In New Jersey:

    (1) New Jersey State Police reports for 1996-2000 show that older pedestrians aged 65 and over were involved in fatal accidents at a rate of 200% to 300% of their proportional representation in the State's population. While senior citizens constitute 13.2% of the Garden State's population, older citizens constituted 23% to 38% of fatal pedestrian accidents, averaging about 33% for the 1995-2000 period.

    (2) New Jersey State Police reports, for the period 1996-2000, further show that older drivers aged 65 and over were:

    (a) consistently the largest number of fatal accident victims of all age groups reported on;

    (b) increased as a percentage of fatal traffic accident victims from 1996-1999, then decreased modestly in 2000;

    (c) an even larger percentage of fatal accident victims when the data is properly analyzed to exclude those fatal accidents involving types of vehicles not generally driven by senior citizens, such as tractor-trailers and busses.

    (3) New Jersey State Police reports for the period 1995-1999 show an increase in the percent of older persons involved in, injured in and dying in fatal traffic accidents from 22.5% in 1995 to 26.3% in 1999. This finding is especially significant because:

    (a) traffic fatalities declined for all age groups under 50; and

    (b) it shows the need for enhanced protection of older passengers as the percentage of older persons in fatal traffic accidents tends to go up even in years when older driver victimization rates in fatal traffic accidents remained stable.

    (4) New Jersey State Police reports for the period 1996-2000 show that a stable average of 43% of all fatal traffic accidents in our State occur in the hours of darkness and dusk -- indicating the potential importance of road and street lighting and lighting standards, especially for older drivers and older pedestrians.

    (5) The number of senior citizen drivers in this State is growing apace with the overall aging of the nation's population. Between 1992 and 1999, the number of drivers aged 75 to 84 increased by 33 percent to approximately 314,000. The number of persons 65 or older in this State is expected to more than double by the year 2030. At the same time, the proportion of the senior citizen population who are licensed to drive also continues to grow. Currently, approximately 26 million persons 65 and older are licensed to drive nationwide. By 2020, this number will increase to 40 million. New Jersey ranks among the top 10 states in its number of senior citizen residents.

    c. In the nation:

    (1) Currently there are 26 million licensed drivers aged 65 and over; 70% of people 65 and over are licensed; there will be 40 million such licensed drivers by 2020. New Jersey is among the top 10 States in senior citizen residents and, apparently, licensed senior citizen drivers.

    (2) Nationally, senior citizen drivers have more traffic convictions and accidents per mile driven than any other age group.

    (3) Nationally, senior citizen drivers are more frequently cited for being at fault in accidents than younger drivers.

    (4) Nationally, older drivers are more likely to experience medical complications and to die, in accidents, than younger drivers who have accidents. Drivers age 75 and over exceed all age groups over age 20 in accident related fatalities. Drivers 65 to 75 years old exceed all groups over age 25 in accident related fatalities.

    (5) Motor Vehicle accidents are the second leading cause of unintentional injury and death for elders, with falls being the leading cause.

    (6) Drivers over age 65 had 158,000 injuries in 1998.

    (7) Fatalities for drivers over 75 years old went up from 1990 to 2000.

    (8) Senior citizens do not want to give up driving and are not giving up driving: 85% of licensees aged 65 to 74 and 85% of licensees aged 75 to 84 and 83% of licensees over age 85 drive.

    (9) Annual miles traveled increased for male drivers age 65 and over in the decade of the 1990s. Females drove more from age 65 to 74 but a little less age 75 and over.

    (10) Drivers aged 70 and over are fairly cooperative in their seat belt use, at almost 80%, but, of course, there is room for improvement via improved seat belts, seat belt education and physical therapy.

    d. As they grow older, senior citizen drivers find that certain physical abilities, such as vision and motor skills, diminish. They are less able than younger drivers to see well at night or to handle complex traffic situations. The State Police reports also indicate that more than 40 percent of fatal accidents occur during the dusk to dawn hours, a period of particular vulnerability for senior citizen drivers. It is also true that senior citizen drivers are more fragile than younger drivers and tend to experience medical complications and to die as the result of traffic and pedestrian accidents.

    Many senior citizen drivers prudently compensate for the effects of aging by driving less, sticking to well-known areas or curtailing their driving after dark. This behavior helps to reduce the overall number of highway accidents for the group. Yet persons 75 years of age and older have more vehicle deaths per mile driven than drivers in any other age group except teenagers. And despite procedures for removing unsafe drivers from the road, many senior citizens with Alzheimer's disease and other infirmities continue to retain their licenses and drive.

    Understandably, senior citizens are wary of any proposal that would restrict their use of a personal motor vehicle. The ability to operate a vehicle affords them mobility in a State where alternate transportation is often not available. Driving also may allow senior citizens to avoid the feeling of isolation that may accompany old age.

    Nevertheless, a number of states have taken steps to address the risks faced by senior citizens drivers. These actions include vision testing for license renewal, medical examinations, limited driver's licenses, reduced renewal periods, and incentives for senior citizen drivers to participate in driver improvement courses. New Jersey, on the other hand, has not acted in these areas. Indeed, a statutory requirement that all drivers receive a vision test every 10 years has not been implemented.

    e. It is fitting and appropriate, therefore, that this State undertake the development of a comprehensive plan of action that will assess the transportation needs of senior citizen residents and recommend voluntary, consensual, workable and effective measures to enhance the safety of its senior citizen drivers and pedestrians. While this plan must be thorough and objective, it should also recognize the importance of a personal motor vehicle to senior citizens, both as a means of mobility and as a connection to the larger community.

 

    3. (New section) The Commissioner of Transportation shall formulate a comprehensive plan of action to assess the transportation needs and driving practices of senior citizen residents of this State and to develop strategies to promote their safety and well-being in using the streets and highways of this State.

    The plan shall be based on a study of the driving patterns, skills and accident rates of senior citizen drivers and of the relevance of existing motor vehicle and traffic laws in addressing the needs of this population. In developing the plan, the department shall enlist the participation of a broad spectrum of the public, including senior citizens, concerned nonprofit organizations, academic and health care institutions, private sector businesses, and public agencies. The plan shall contain detailed recommendations and cost estimates for any legislation, administrative actions or public initiatives as are determined to be conducive to improving the safety of senior citizen drivers and pedestrians and of the fellow citizens with whom they share the roads.

 

    4. (New section) a. In developing the plan, the commissioner shall provide for the study and analysis of the following factors as they relate to senior citizen drivers and pedestrians:

    (1) Demographic characteristics and trends and regional distribution;

    (2) Driving patterns and motor vehicle usage;

    (3) Availability and accessibility of public transportation;

    (4) Involvement in motor vehicle accidents;

    (5) Physical characteristics and health problems;

    (6) The effect of aging on the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle;

    (7) Public perceptions of senior citizen drivers;

    (8) Relevant research studies;

    (9) Programs adopted by other jurisdictions to improve traffic safety and protect senior citizen drivers and pedestrians; and

    (10) Such other matters as the Commissioner of Transportation shall deem appropriate to achieve the objectives of this act.

    b. The plan shall evaluate the efficacy of policies and safety strategies and devices including, but not limited to, the following:

    (1) Enhanced illumination and glare-free road and street lighting;

    (2) Uniform road and street illumination standards;

    (3) Voice messages linked to traffic signal changes;

    (4) Phosphorescent painting and reflectorization of lane markers and signs;

    (5) Improving traffic signage by enlarging, enhancing color and contrast and removing clutter;

    (6) Court referrals of senior citizens involved in at-fault accidents to driver evaluation and retraining programs and automobile insurance discounts for those who voluntarily complete such programs;

    (7) Coordinated paratransit to link senior citizens to major mass transit systems;

    (8) Improvement of rear-view mirrors and mirror systems to compensate for diminished vision resulting from the aging process;

    (9) Seat belt modifications to facilitate belt usage by senior citizen drivers and passengers;


    (10) Magnification and illumination improvement of dashboard lighting;

    (11) After-market window tinting to reduce glare;

    (12) Steering wheel extenders for short or fragile drivers;

    (13) Automatic in-board tire pressure indicators utilizing light or sound indicators of low pressure;

    (14) Assessments of the relationship between certain health conditions, such as early cataracts, light scatter sensitivity, low contrast peripheral vision, balance, range of motion and reaction time, and senior citizen driving safety; and

    (15) Analyses of plans and programs adopted by other jurisdictions to enhance the safety of older drivers, passengers and pedestrians, such as driver re-education, physical rehabilitation, senior citizen pedestrian safety, safety technologies, road redesign strategies, vehicular modification strategies, highway lighting strategies, alcohol and drug enforcement strategies, anti-speeding strategies and public health/safe driving strategies.

    c. The plan shall assess the necessity for initiatives to increase the safety of senior citizen drivers by means of both voluntary incentives and, if absolutely necessary, State regulation. The plan shall specifically address the utility of senior citizen safe driving health centers and the utility of senior friendly, senior safety adaptive equipment for the automobiles of senior citizens. The plan shall specifically address alternatives to driver retesting, conditional driver's licenses, and the adequacy of current provisions for removing infirm and medically high-risk drivers from the roads. The plan also shall consider practical alternatives to driving that will meet the transportation needs of persons who choose not to operate a motor vehicle.

 

    5. (New section) a. The commissioner shall appoint a panel of no fewer than 12 persons with specialized knowledge regarding such topics as senior citizen drivers, motor vehicle laws, traffic safety and health care to advise him in the review and implementation of the plan. The panel shall include at least three senior citizens or persons who represent the interests of senior citizens.

    b. It is anticipated that the commissioner will contract with private sector experts on the safety of senior citizens to advise him in developing the plan.

 

    6. (New section) The plan shall be completed within 24 months of the effective date of this act. At that time, the commissioner shall submit a copy of the plan to the Governor and the Legislature.

 

    7. (New section) The sum of $3,000,000 is hereby appropriated from the "Senior Citizens Safe Driving Health Centers Account" created pursuant to R.S.39:5-41 to the Department of Transportation to prepare a transportation plan for senior citizen drivers.

 

    8. (New section) For purposes of sections 8 and 9 of this act,

    "Senior citizen" means an individual 65 years of age or older.

    "Approved senior citizens safe driving health center" means a facility approved pursuant to section 9 of this act.

 

    9. (New section) An approved senior citizen safe driving health center shall include:

    a. those medical, diagnostic, rehabilitation, counseling and referral services needed to improve the health-related driving capacities of senior citizens approved by the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services by regulation;

    b. facilities to assess the need for a senior's automobile to be modified and equipped to enhance the fit between the senior's physical capabilities and the automobile's mirrors, brakes, seating, steering and other functional mechanisms; and

    c. such programs of occupational therapy, driver's rehabilitation and driver re-education as the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services, in consultation with the Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission may by regulation approve. Approved senior citizen safe driving health centers shall be located in licensed hospitals and in free standing senior citizen safe driving health centers in this State. In order to facilitate the timely start up of senior citizen safe driving health centers in New Jersey, the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services is directed to make preliminary or temporary approval of at least three regionalized centers and programs for a period of up to three years while more authoritative approval processes are developed and implemented.

 

    10. (New section) a. No approved senior citizen safe driving health center or its trustees, directors, officers, employees, agents, servants or volunteers shall, except as provided in subsection b. of this section, be liable to respond in damages to any person who shall suffer damage from the negligence of any agent or servant of such center, to whatever degree, as a recipient of the services of, or equipment provided by, such center.

    b. Nothing in this section shall be deemed to grant immunity to: (1) any trustee, director, officer, employee, agent, servant or volunteer causing damage by a willful, wanton or grossly negligent act of commission or omission, including sexual assault and other crimes of a sexual nature; or (2) any trustee, director, officer, employee, agent, servant or volunteer causing damage as the result of the negligent operation of a motor vehicle.


    11. (New section) Every rate filing for private passenger automobile insurance shall contain a 10 percent reduction for personal injury protection coverage, bodily injury liability coverage, property damage coverage, and physical damage coverage for the successful completion, by the named insured who is a senior citizen, or the principal operator of the insured automobile who is a senior citizen, if other than the named insured, of a safe driving evaluation and rehabilitation program at an approved senior citizen safe driving health center. The reduction in premium shall be available to the insured for a three-year period beginning with the next succeeding policy period after the date of completion of an approved medical and safe driving program or until a driver's license suspension or the accumulation of four or more motor vehicle points, whichever occurs earlier.

 

    12. R.S.39:5-41 is amended to read as follows:

    39:5-41. a. All fines, penalties and forfeitures imposed and collected under authority of law for any violations of R.S.39:4-63 and R.S.39:4-64 shall be forwarded by the judge to whom the same have been paid to the proper financial officer of a county, if the violation occurred within the jurisdiction of that county's central municipal court, established pursuant to N.J.S.2B:12-1 et seq. or the municipality wherein the violation occurred, to be used by the county or municipality to help finance litter control activities in addition to or supplementing existing litter pickup and removal activities in the municipality.

    b. Except as otherwise provided by subsection a. of this section, all fines, penalties and forfeitures imposed and collected under authority of law for any violations of the provisions of this Title, other than those violations in which the complaining witness is the director, a member of his staff, a member of the State Police, a member of a county police department and force or a county park police system in a county that has established a central municipal court, an inspector of the Board of Public Utilities, or a law enforcement officer of any other State agency, shall be forwarded by the judge to whom the same have been paid as follows: one-half of the total amount collected to the financial officer, as designated by the local governing body, of the respective municipalities wherein the violations occurred, to be used by the municipality for general municipal use and to defray the cost of operating the municipal court; and one-half of the total amount collected to the proper financial officer of the county wherein they were collected, to be used by the county as a fund for the construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of roads and bridges, snow removal, the acquisition and purchase of rights-of-way, and the purchase, replacement and repair of equipment for use on said roads and bridges therein. Up to 25% of the money received by a municipality pursuant to this subsection, but not more than the actual amount budgeted for the municipal court, whichever is less, may be used to upgrade case processing.

    All fines, penalties and forfeitures imposed and collected under authority of law for any violations of the provisions of this Title, in which the complaining witness is a member of a county police department and force or a county park police system in a county that has established a central municipal court, shall be forwarded by the judge to whom the same have been paid to the financial officer, designated by the governing body of the county, for all violations occurring within the jurisdiction of that court, to be used for general county use and to defray the cost of operating the central municipal court.

    Whenever any county has deposited moneys collected pursuant to this section in a special trust fund in lieu of expending the same for the purposes authorized by this section, it may withdraw from said special trust fund in any year an amount which is not in excess of the amount expended by the county over the immediately preceding three-year period from general county revenues for said purposes. Such moneys withdrawn from the trust fund shall be accounted for and used as are other general county revenues.

    c. (Deleted by amendment, P.L.1993, c.293.)

    d. Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections a. and b. of this section, $1.00 shall be added to the amount of each fine and penalty imposed and collected under authority of any law for any violation of the provisions of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes or any other motor vehicle or traffic violation in this State and shall be forwarded by the person to whom the same are paid to the State Treasurer. In addition, upon the forfeiture of bail, $1.00 of that forfeiture shall be forwarded to the State Treasurer. The State Treasurer shall annually deposit those moneys so forwarded in the "Body Armor Replacement" fund established pursuant to section 1 of P.L.1997, c.177 (C.52:17B-4.4). Beginning in the fiscal year next following the effective date of this act, the State Treasurer annually shall allocate from those moneys so forwarded an amount not to exceed $400,000 to the Department of Personnel to be expended exclusively for the purposes of funding the operation of the "Law Enforcement Officer Crisis Intervention Services" telephone hotline established and maintained under the provisions of P.L.1998, c.149 (C.11A:2-25 et al.).

    e. Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections a. and b. of this section, $1 shall be added to the amount of each fine and penalty imposed and collected under authority of any law for any violation of the provisions of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes or any other motor vehicle or traffic violation in this State and shall be forwarded by the person to whom the same are paid to the State Treasurer. The State Treasurer shall annually deposit those moneys so forwarded in the "New Jersey Spinal Cord Research Fund" established pursuant to section 9 of P.L.1999, c.201 (C.52:9E-9). In order to comply with the provisions of Article VIII, Section II, paragraph 5 of the State Constitution, a municipal or county agency which forwards moneys to the State Treasurer pursuant to this subsection may retain an amount equal to 2% of the moneys which it collects pursuant to this subsection as compensation for its administrative costs associated with implementing the provisions of this subsection.

    f. Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections a. and b. of this section, during the period beginning on the effective date of this act and ending five years thereafter, $1 shall be added to the amount of each fine and penalty imposed and collected through a court under authority of any law for any violation of the provisions of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes or any other motor vehicle or traffic violation in this State and shall be forwarded by the person to whom the same are paid to the State Treasurer. The State Treasurer shall annually deposit those moneys so forwarded in the "Autism Medical Research and Treatment Fund" established pursuant to section 1 of P.L.2003, c.144 (C.30:6D-62.2).

    g. Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection a. and b. of this section, $2 shall be added to the amount of each fine and penalty imposed and collected by a court under authority of any law for any violation of the provisions of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes or any other motor vehicle or traffic violation in this State and shall be forwarded by the person to whom the same are paid to the State Treasurer. The State Treasurer shall annually deposit those moneys so forwarded in the "New Jersey Forensic DNA Laboratory Fund" established pursuant to P.L.2003, c.183. Prior to depositing the moneys into the fund, the State Treasurer shall forward to the Administrative Office of the Courts an amount not to exceed $475,000 from moneys initially collected pursuant to this subsection to be used exclusively to establish a collection mechanism and to provide funding to update the Automated Traffic System Fund created pursuant to N.J.S.2B:12-30 to implement the provisions of this subsection.

    The authority to impose additional fines and penalties under this subsection shall take effect 90 days after the effective date of P.L.2003, c.183 and shall expire five years thereafter. Not later than the 180th day prior to such expiration, the Attorney General shall prepare and submit to the Governor and the Legislature a report on the collection and use of DNA samples under P.L.1994, c.136. The report shall cover the period beginning on that effective date and ending four years thereafter. The report shall indicate separately, for each one-year period during those four years that begins on that effective date or an anniversary thereof, the number of each type of biological sample taken and the total cost of taking that type of sample, and also the number of identifications and exonerations achieved through the use of the samples. In addition, the report shall evaluate the effectiveness, including cost effectiveness, of having the samples available to further police investigations and other forensic purposes.

    h. Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections a. and b. of this section, $1 shall be added to the amount of each fine and penalty imposed and collected under authority of any law for any violation of the provisions of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes or any other motor vehicle or traffic violation in this State and shall be forwarded by the person to whom the same are paid to the State Treasurer. The State Treasurer shall annually deposit those moneys so forwarded in the "New Jersey Brain Injury Research Fund" established pursuant to section 9 of P.L.2003, c.200 (C.52:9EE-9). The Administrative Office of the Courts may retain an amount equal to $475,000 from the moneys which it initially collects pursuant to this subsection, prior to depositing any moneys in the "New Jersey Brain Injury Research Fund," in order to meet the expenses associated with utilizing the Automated Traffic System Fund created pursuant to N.J.S.2B:12-30 to implement the provisions of this subsection and serve other statutory purposes.

    i. Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections a. and b. of this section, $8 shall be added to the amount of each fine and penalty imposed and collected under authority of any law for any violation of the provisions of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes or any other motor vehicle or traffic violation in this State and shall be forwarded by the person to whom the same are paid to the State Treasurer. The State Treasurer shall annually deposit those moneys so forwarded in the "Senior Citizen Safe Driving Health Centers Account." Except for the $3,000,000 appropriation pursuant to section 7 of P.L. , c. (C.           )( now before the Legislature as this bill), the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services shall distribute all monies available in the account to senior citizen safe driving health centers approved pursuant to section 9 of P.L. , c. (C. ) ( now before the Legislature as this bill). In order to comply with the provisions of Article VIII, Section II, paragraph 5 of the State Constitution, a municipal or county agency which forwards moneys to the State Treasurer pursuant to this subsection may retain an amount equal to 2% of the moneys which it collects pursuant to this subsection as compensation for its administrative costs associated with implementing the provisions of this subsection.

(cf: P.L.2003, c.200, s.10)

 

    13. This act shall take effect immediately, except that sections 8 through 11 shall take effect on the 180th day following enactment.


STATEMENT

 

    This bill requires the Commissioner of Transportation to formulate a comprehensive action plan to assess the transportation needs and driving practices of senior citizen residents and to develop strategies to promote their safety and well-being while using the streets and highways of this State.

    The bill notes that due to demographic trends, the population of senior citizen drivers in this State is growing and that certain critical physical abilities tend to diminish with age. While senior citizens tend to drive less than members of other age groups, the accident death rate per miles driven by senior citizen drivers is greater than any group except teenagers.

    Involvement of senior citizen residents in fatal traffic accidents is documented in New Jersey State Police reports for the period 1996 to 2000. The incidence of traffic and pedestrian accidents involving persons 65 and older increased during this period. The rate of fatal accidents for this group exceeded the proportional representation of senior citizens in the State's population.

    As they grow older, senior citizen drivers find that certain physical abilities such as vision and motor skills diminish. They are less able than younger drivers to see well at night or to handle complex traffic situations. The State Police reports also indicate that more than 40 percent of fatal accidents occur during the dusk to dawn hours, a period of particular vulnerability for senior citizen drivers. It is also true that senior citizen drivers are more fragile than younger drivers and tend to experience medical complications and to die as the result of traffic and pedestrian accidents.

    The plan required by this bill is to be based on a study of the driving patterns, skills and accident rates of senior citizen drivers and the relevance of existing traffic laws to the needs of this group. The plan will evaluate the efficacy of a variety of safety strategies and devices. It will assess the feasibility of initiatives to increase the safety of senior citizen drivers both through voluntary incentives and regulation. The plan specifically will address such issues as alternatives to driver retesting, conditional licenses and the adequacy of current provisions for removing infirm drivers from the roads. The plan is to contain detailed recommendations and cost estimates for any legislation, administrative actions or public initiatives as are determined to be conducive to improving the safety of senior citizen drivers and pedestrians.

    The bill authorizes the commissioner to appoint an advisory panel of no fewer than 12 members, including persons with specialized knowledge of senior citizen drivers, motor vehicle laws, traffic safety and health care. The bill also anticipates the commissioner will contract with nationally recognized regional experts to advise in the development of the plan.

    The commissioner is required to submit the final plan to the Governor and the Legislature within 24 months.

    To fund the development of the plan, the bill appropriates $3 million to the Department of Transportation from the "Senior Citizen Safe Driving Health Centers Account."

    The bill also provides senior citizens with a premium reduction of 10 percent in their automobile insurance if they have completed a safe driving evaluation and rehabilitation program at a senior citizens safe driving health center established by the bill.

    Finally, this bill levies an $8 fee on every motor vehicle violation to be deposited in the "Senior Citizen Safe Driving Health Centers Account" to be used to support the approved senior citizen safe driving health centers.