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Allen v. Strelecki

Decided: December 4, 1967.

EDGAR W. ALLEN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JUNE STRELECKI, DIRECTOR OF THE DIVISION OF MOTOR VEHICLES IN THE DEPARTMENT OF LAW AND PUBLIC SAFETY OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



For affirmance -- Chief Justice Weintraub and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Schettino and Haneman. For reversal -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Francis, J.

Francis

Plaintiff, Edgar W. Allen, sought a review in the Appellate Division of an order of the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles suspending his driver's license for a period of one year from December 18, 1965. R.R. 4:88-8. The Appellate Division affirmed without opinion, and we granted Allen's petition for certification. 48 N.J. 136 (1966).

On August 5, 1964 around 3 A.M., while driving his truck on Route 537, Millstone Township, Allen was involved in an accident in which a pedestrian died. The circumstances were rather unusual but need not be recounted in any detail because they play no substantial part in the controversy before the Court. Although he became aware that his truck had come in contact with the victim, he did not stop and render aid, nor did he report the incident to the police or to the Division of Motor Vehicles. Some time later the police investigation uncovered his involvement. He was then charged in the Municipal Court with violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-96 (reckless driving), N.J.S.A. 39:4-97 (careless driving), N.J.S.A. 39:4-129 (leaving the scene of an accident) and N.J.S.A. 39:4-130 (failure to report an accident). On October 5, 1964 he pleaded guilty to the violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-129 and 39:4-130; the careless driving and reckless driving charges were dismissed. Later the Grand Jury declined to indict on a Death by Auto charge.

Some years ago the Director of the Division of Motor Vehicles adopted a "Point System Regulation" under which "points" are assessed against a licensed driver upon violation of various sections of the statutes governing operation of motor vehicles. The number of points imposed varies depending upon the type of the infraction. Under the established scale, leaving the scene of an accident results in assessment of eight points against the violator's record. According to the Director's statement the same number of points, i.e. eight, is assessed irrespective of whether the accident

involved minor property damage or a death; "they are assessed on mere evidence that a conviction has been recorded."

More specifically in reference to this case the pertinent parts of the Director's regulation in force at the time of the accident said:

"The New Jersey Point System is a driver corrective measure designed to discipline traffic law violation repeaters.

"It operates exclusively from the central office of the Division of Motor Vehicles, in Trenton. The driver records which form the basis for action against repeaters are traffic law convictions in the magistrates' courts which the law requires the courts to report to the division. Traffic law convictions of New Jersey drivers in other States and Canadian Provinces likewise become a part of the operator's record.

A driver amassing 12 or more points within a three-year period dating from the latest violation, becomes subject to a hearing before the Director, in Trenton, on a rule to show cause why his driving privilege should not be revoked. * * *

Only moving violations such as speeding, reckless driving, ignoring a traffic signal, etc., are charged against the driver's record. * * *

The following scale of points is observed:

Points

Involvement in fatal accident

(if held responsible) 12

Leaving scene of accident 8

This regulation was revised on January 13, 1965 when the number of points for previously unspecified violations was listed. However, the point assessment for involvement in a fatal accident was eliminated, i.e., "Involvement in fatal accident (if held responsible) * * * 12 points." Since then there has been no reference to fatal accidents in the regulation. The suggestion is that the Director prefers to deal independently with fatal-accident cases under the broad power conferred by N.J.S.A. 39:5-30 over licenses and their suspension or revocation.

The point system appears to be administered in this fashion: When conviction of a listed violation is reported by

a municipal court, the scheduled points are assessed against the driver automatically. The form used for this report does not require notation that a fatality was involved. The assessment of points is fed into a computer which then discloses the number of points accumulated by the driver and the offenses involved. The listing of the last offense in the computer report, such as leaving the scene of accident, would not reveal that a fatality was involved, nor would there be any particularization of the circumstances attending the listed infractions. When this report discloses 12 or more points, the driver's license is not affected until the Director, through the designated member of her staff, reviews it and notes in the blank space provided on the form the proposed length of suspension. In fixing the period ordinarily the factors considered are the nature of the Title 39 violations involved, their frequency and number, the total number of points accumulated and the driver's age. The specific facts or circumstances under which the violations occurred apparently do not normally enter into the decision as to the length of the suspension. As the Director informs us, this is because the tremendous volume of violations reported, points assessed and suspensions imposed make it administratively necessary to operate in this largely automatic fashion. By way of illustration, the Director has advised that in 1966 there were approximately 25,000 notices of proposed suspensions sent to licensees for point system violations. During the same period action was taken to suspend the driving privileges of 349 drivers for involvement in fatal accidents. We are told also that no statistics are available to show the number of drivers whose fatal accident also involved a point system case arising from a violation of the Motor Vehicle Act which, although not a causative factor in the production of the accident, nevertheless brought their accumulated points up to 12 or more, and thus warranted suspension.

According to the Director, cases arising out of fatalities are generally given more complete ...


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