TRENTON - Gov. Christie signed a law Friday that can get aggressive drivers up to five years in prison if their behavior behind the wheel causes serious injury.
"It does not permit you to act out every one of your childish tantrums while behind the wheel of a vehicle," Christie said as Jessica Rogers, the 23-year-old namesake of the law, watched from her wheelchair.
When she was 16, Rogers was among a group of teens riding in a friend's car. Another vehicle cut them off and the driver she was with became angry, gave chase, and crashed into a telephone pole. Rogers was paralyzed from the chest down.
Over the last seven years, she has been through two dozen surgeries.
The driver ended up serving four months in jail.
Rogers and her family were so disheartened by what they considered lax punishment they started talking with lawmakers about being tougher on aggressive drivers.
It took five years for lawmakers to agree on the wording of the bill, which ultimately passed unanimously in both chambers of the Legislature.
"I hope it will make people think before they act," said Rogers, who lives in Hamilton and aspires to become a psychologist, "whether they're flipping people off, yelling at people, cutting people off."
Anne Teigen, who has tracked aggressive-driving legislation for the last six years for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said New Jersey's was the only law she knew of that deals with road rage through an assault-by-auto statute.
Eleven states have separate aggressive-driving laws, she said.
Under New Jersey's new law, aggressive drivers who cause injuries will be subject to the same penalties as those who cause injuries while driving drunk.
Those who cause serious injuries can be sentenced to five years in prison. Those responsible for minor injuries can receive 18 months.
The new law doesn't cover vehicular homicide, which is covered under a separate statute.
Christie said road rage seems to be a bigger problem in New Jersey than elsewhere - perhaps because it is a densely populated state where roads are often crowded and residents are known for having a bit of an attitude.
He said he had seen it firsthand from the caravan of black SUVs in which he travels.