NJ Supreme Court Sets Precedent for Seat Belt Use and Reckless Driving
Posted on Jun 06, 2013
The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that a former police officer will stand trial for the fatal North Bruswick car accident that killed his friend and colleague in 2008.
Former North Brunswick Police Lt. Keith Buckley was on duty when he rented a high-performance Dodge Viper on August 12, 2008. Buckley was driving the borrowed vehicle with fellow officer Christopher Zerby in the passenger’s seat when he lost control of the Viper on Route 130 in North Brunswick. The Viper left the roadway and struck a utility pole, killing 41-year-old Lt. Zerby.
Buckley was charged with second-degree vehicular homicide. He was also in indicted for official misconduct, as the accident took place while Buckley was on duty.
Buckley’s attorneys attempted to argue that the cause of Zerby’s death was not erratic driving or the crash, but the fact that he was not wearing a seat belt. Buckley’s counsel also argued that the utility pole had been placed in an incorrect spot according to state guidelines, and the accident may not have been fatal if it had been correctly placed.
However, the Supreme Court justices ruled unanimously that both of these arguments are inadmissible, and are irrelevant to whether Buckley was aware that his driving increased the risk of a fatal accident.
The ruling set a precedent for state law regarding recklessness and seat belt use. Other states have upheld decisions stating that seat belt use cannot be argued as a possible intervening factor—that is, whether the theoretical use of a seat belt would have saved someone’s life when the driver was driving recklessly.
Buckley’s trial has been on hold pending this decision, but Superior Court Judge Michael Toto is expected to set a trial date at the upcoming status conference.
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