Lynch, Milmed and Antell. The opinion of the court was delivered by Lynch, P.J.A.D. Antell, J.A.D. (dissenting).
Defendant appeals from his conviction of having violated the compulsory insurance provision of N.J.S.A. 39:6B-2. In pertinent part that statute provides that "Any owner, or registrant of a motor vehicle registered or principally garaged in this State who operates or causes to be operated a motor vehicle * * * without motor vehicle liability insurance coverage * * * and any operator who operates or causes a motor vehicle to be operated and who knows" that the vehicle is without such insurance, is subject to the penalties of the statute. (Emphasis added).
Defendant was not an "owner or registrant." His conviction in the County Court on de novo review of his municipal court conviction was based on a finding that the defendant "caused" a motor vehicle "to be operated" when he knew or should have known that it was not covered by the necessary insurance.
The facts as recited in defendant's brief are not in dispute: In the beginning of the summer of 1975 Stephen Rodziniak placed an advertisement in the newspaper offering for sale a 1965 Pontiac GTO. Defendant Schumm responded to this advertisement. After some discussion he
agreed to purchase the vehicle for $150. Defendant gave Rodziniak an initial down-payment of approximately $30, and after some passage of time additional payments were made to bring the total payments up to $130 or $140. In either event, on September 3, 1975 defendant had not yet paid to Rodziniak the full amount of the purchase price.
At some time between the last payment and September 3, 1975 the vehicle in question was moved from Rodziniak's property to the street in front of defendant's girlfriend's house because Rodziniak's father wanted him to get the vehicle off their property.
Although defendant had thus taken custody of the vehicle, he had not fully paid the agreed upon purchase price, nor had Rodziniak delivered to defendant the certificate of ownership. The assignment of the certificate had been signed by Rodziniak but was otherwise still blank. Rodziniak had no intention of delivering title until the balance of the purchase price was paid. Thus, defendant was only in custody of the vehicle. He did not own it.
On September 3, 1975 the vehicle was being moved from its location in front of defendant's girlfriend's house to another area when it was stopped by Patrolman Mattera of the North Plainfield Police Department. Defendant was not driving the vehicle at that time but was a passenger in the right front seat. Mattera specifically identified Franklin Sananstasso as being the driver of the vehicle.
Defendant had asked Sananstasso to drive the vehicle, and at that time inquired whether Sananstasso possessed a driver's license. In response, Sananstasso exhibited something to defendant which appeared to be a driver's license. However, Sananstasso did not in fact possess a valid driver's license.
Patrolman Mattera issued three summonses against defendant, charging him with these offenses: (1) failing to have insurance, in violation of the mandatory insurance provisions of N.J.S.A. 39:6B-2; (2) allowing an unlicensed driver to operate a vehicle, in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-39(b),
and (3) having "fictitious plates," in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-33.
It should be added that defendant conceded that the vehicle was in his custody and that at the time of the alleged offense he was in control of the vehicle. Further, at oral argument he conceded that he "caused it to be operated."
Defendant's sole contention on appeal is that the language of the section reading, "any operator who operates or causes a motor vehicle to be operated," can only be construed to mean that one must actually be an "operator" of the vehicle as defined in N.J.S.A. 39:1-1, to be subject to the statutory provision. This argument is premised on a literal analysis of the statutory language to the effect that the noun "operator" is the antecedent of the adjective clause ...