New Jersey is subjecting drivers who have gone without sleep for 24 hours and cause a fatal crash to criminal penalties. A law signed yesterday puts motorists on notice that staying alert is just as important as staying sober, the Associated Press reports.
Named after a 20-year-old woman who died in a crash, Maggie’s Law makes sleep deprivation a basis for vehicular homicide, a second-degree crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. “This is a wake-up call for New Jersey,” said Carol McDonnell, who lobbied for the law after the death of her daughter Maggie.
Maggie McDonnell, a Gloucester County College student, died in 1997 after a van swerved across three lanes and collided with her car. The driver said he had gone without sleep for 30 hours and had fallen asleep at the wheel. He was charged with vehicular homicide, but his lawyer argued that driving while fatigued was not a crime. After the jury acquitted the driver, a judge cited him for reckless driving and fined him $200.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that least 100,000 crashes, 71,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths each year happen because drivers fall asleep.