The New Jersey legislature is considering a bill that would allow state residents to voluntarily add emergency contact information to an electronic database for use in the event of a car accident.
The New Jersey legislature is paving the way to create a statewide voluntary program that would notify family members when a loved one has been involved in a serious motor vehicle accident. Called the "Next-of-Kin" registry, anyone holding a valid state-issued identification card, including a driver's license or permit, would have the option of including the names and contact information of up to two people in an electronic database maintained by the Motor Vehicle Commission. Law enforcement personnel then could access this information in cases where the driver and/or passenger were unable to communicate due to a seriously bodily injury, incapacitation or death in a motor vehicle accident.
Adding information to the registry would be completely voluntary. Those who want to participate would simply log on to the Next of Kin registry through the Motor Vehicle Commission's web site using the identification number on their state-issued ID card. Individuals also would have the ability to update and change their emergency contact information at any time by logging on to the same site.
Also referred to as "Sara's Law," the proposed legislation is named in honor of 19-year-old Sayreville resident Sara Dubinin. Sara was seriously injured when her car went off of the road and hit a tree in September 2007. It took an hour and a half for emergency responders to identify Sara and contact her parents. By the time her parents made it to the hospital, Sara had fallen into a coma. She died the following day.
Sponsors of the legislation, including Assemblyman Craig J. Coughlin (D-South Amboy), say that the registry provides an effective and efficient means for the state to prevent a tragedy like Sara's from happening to another New Jersey family.
The State Assembly passed the bill unanimously in June. The measure was passed by the Senate Transportation Committee in September and now awaits a hearing by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
Expanded Availability of State-Issued IDs
To increase the potential number of people who could be included in the database, the bill also includes a provision that would lower the age limit for obtaining a state-issued non-driver's license identification card from 17 to 14. However, those under 18 would need a parent's permission to submit emergency contact information to the registry. Additionally, the only available emergency contacts for minors would be their parents or legal guardians.
Senate Changes Address Privacy Concerns
While the registry has received broad support, there have been some concerns about protecting the privacy of the information kept in the database. To alleviate some of these concerns, the Transportation Committee added a provision to the bill that only would allow the information in the Next-of-Kin registry to be accessed as a public record in two limited situations: upon a subpoena by a grand jury or a court order.
In all other cases, the information contained in the registry would not accessible by the public and could not be found by running a public records search. The information also would not be subject to New Jersey's Open Public Records Act.
As the legislation is currently written, the only parties who will have authorization to access the emergency contact database are law enforcement officials and Motor Vehicle Commission employees, including the Chief Administrator, who are in charge of maintaining the database.
If signed into law, the Next-of-Kin registry could become an efficient means for the police to quickly locate and contact family members when the worst has happened. While no one wants to get the call telling them that a loved one has been seriously hurt, it is important for family members to get this information as soon as possible - especially if their loved one has limited time left.
If you have been the victim of a serious motor vehicle accident, contact an experienced attorney today.
Article provided by Markowitz Gravelle LLP - Visit us at www.mgs-law.com
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