TRENTON - This Tuesday, Governor Murphy signed into law “Zackhary’s Law,” legislation sponsored by Senator Vin Gopal and Assemblywoman Joann Downey that would create a new alert system to help apprehend drivers who abandon a victim with serious injuries at the scene of a hit-and-run accident.
“This law aims to do two things: catch criminals, and deter drivers from committing a criminal act in the first place,” said Senator Vin Gopal (D-Tinton Falls), who introduced the bill in the Senate. “If they know that their chances of being caught have increased exponentially, drivers will need to think twice about running away from the scene of an accident they’ve caused.”
“Leaving the scene of a hit-and-run accident where someone is hurt is a selfish and shameful act,“ said Downey (D-Freehold). “A Zack Alert would let community members know to alert law enforcement and bring the offender to justice. With Zackhary’s Law now in place, we can help make sure that criminal drivers will be caught and face the consequences for their actions.”
The law (A-1477) establishes an alert system to aid in the apprehension of drivers who knowingly flee the scene of a motor vehicle accident that results in another person’s death or serious bodily injury. The legislation was written to commemorate the life of Zackhary Simmons, a 21-year-old man who died in Hoboken in June of 2016 after being hit by a vehicle that fled the scene before help could arrive. The Zack Alert system established by the bill would be a voluntary, cooperative effort between law enforcement agencies, transportation agencies and the media to help bring offenders to justice.
Under the bill, a Zack Alert may be activated when a law enforcement agency confirms that a person has been killed or seriously injured in a hit-and-run and if that agency has sufficient information available to indicate that an alert would assist in locating the suspect. The law enforcement agency would immediately notify the Department of Transportation, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority.
Any media outlet that participates in the Zack Alert system would voluntarily agree to transmit alerts to the public. Additionally, text message alerts would automatically be issued to every officer or employee of a public entity who possesses a mobile phone issued by a public entity.
“Hit-and-run accidents are often a result of irresponsible drivers who don’t care enough to drive safely or respect traffic laws, whose carelessness then leads them to panic and flee without taking the time to make sure that their recklessness hasn’t harmed someone else,” said Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling (D-Neptune), who joined Downey as a co-sponsor of Zackhary’s Law. “We need to identify these drivers and get them off the road as quickly as possible - before they can cause any further damage, and to create closure and accountability for the sake of the victim.”