If you’ve been injured in a car accident in the State of New Jersey, you may have questions about how the laws will affect your property damage and/or personal injury claim. In this article, we’ll review the laws most commonly associated with car accidents. To read the entirety of each law, click the link to the specific State of New Jersey statutes in each section.
Here are the New Jersey car accident and traffic laws we’ll cover:
Pedestrians and Crosswalks
The driver of a vehicle must stop and yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian has reached the halfway point of the crosswalk, or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the crosswalk as to be in danger.
Restrictions on Pedestrians Crossing Roadways
No pedestrian must enter any marked or unmarked crosswalk when traffic is so close that it is impossible for a driver to yield or stop, nor must any pedestrian enter any marked or unmarked crosswalk where traffic signs forbid such entry.
Pedestrian Control Signals
Pedestrians shall obey instructions on any traffic-control device specifically applicable, unless otherwise directed by a police officer.
Crossing at Other Than Crosswalks
Pedestrians intending to cross a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles on the roadway.
Pedestrians must use only the marked crosswalk to cross between two adjacent intersections that have traffic-control signals in operation.
Pedestrians on Roadway
Where sidewalks are provided, it is unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon adjacent roadway, bicycle lane, or bicycle path.
Where sidewalks are not provided, pedestrians are permitted to walk only on or along the left side of the roadway or on it’s shoulder facing traffic from the opposite direction.
Pedestrians’ Right of Way on Sidewalks
The driver of a vehicle emerging from or entering an alley, building, private road, or driveway shall yield the right of way to any pedestrian approaching on any sidewalk extending across the alley, building entrance, road, or driveway.
Drivers to Exercise Due Care
The driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway.
Obedience to Traffic Control Devices
A driver must obey any traffic control devices applicable to the driver, unless directed by a traffic or police officer.
Driving on Right Side of Roadway
Drivers must drive in the right lane of roadways with the following exceptions:
- When passing another driver in the same direction
- When there is an obstruction in the right lane
- When driving upon a one-way street
Passing On the Left
Driver proceeding in the same direction must pass to the left at at a safe distance and must remain in the passing lane until it is safe to return to the right lane. The driver of the overtaken vehicle must give way to the driver overtaking their vehicle and must not increase their speed until the overtaking vehicle has complete passed.
Limitations on Overtaking on the Left
Drivers may drive to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle only if the left side is clearly visible for five hundred (500) feet ahead.
Passing On the Right
Drivers may pass on the right only when it can be done safely and without driving off the pavement or the main-traveled portion of the roadway.
Following Too Closely
A driver must not follow another driver more closely than is “reasonable and prudent”, having due regard for the speed of other drivers and traffic conditions along the roadway.
Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices
Drivers can use only hands-free mobile electronic devices. Drivers must not drive while using a handheld mobile electronic device, except for the sole purpose of calling 911 or if the driver is in fear for their life or believes a criminal act may occur against them or another person.
Drivers and Intersections
When two (2) drivers approach an intersection at approximately the same time the driver on the left must yield to the driver in the right.
Drivers Intending to Turn Left at Intersections
A driver who intends to turn left at an intersection, or into an alley, private road or driveway must yield the right of way to drivers approaching from the opposite direction.
Drivers Entering or Crossing a Roadway
A driver about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway must yield the right of way to all other drivers on the roadway to be crossed or entered.
Bicyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.
Motorcyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.
All motorcyclists must wear helmets while riding on roadways. If the motorcycle is not equipped with a windshield, then motorcyclists must also wear protective goggles while riding on roadways.
Section 39:3-76.7 and Section 39:3-76.8
Motorcycles and Headlights
Every motorcycle riding on a roadway must have at least one (1) and not more than two (2) headlights, one (1) tail light, one (1) stop light, at least one (1) reflector on the rear, and adequate lighting of the license plate.
Driving Offenses and Accident Requirements
A person who drives a vehicle in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger a person or property is guilty of careless driving.
A driver who drives in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving, and can be fined and imprisoned.
Alcohol and Minors
A driver under the legal age to purchase alcohol must not drive a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.01% or more.
Driver’s Duty to Give Information and Render Aid
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to any person, including other drivers, passengers, and/ or passersby must give their name, address and the vehicle registration and their driver’s license information to the driver, passengers, and/or police officers investigating the accident.
Moreover the driver must render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including making of arrangements to transfer the injured person to a physician or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent medical treatment is required.
Accidents Involving Death, Personal Injury, or Substantial Bodily Injury
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death of any person must immediately contact the police, fulfill the requirements of Section 39:4-129c by communicating information, and within 10 days forward a written report of the accident.
Accidents Involving Only Damage to Another Car or Property
A driver involved in an accident resulting in only property damage must immediately contact the police, fulfill the requirements of Section 39:4-129c by communicating information, and within 10 days forward a written report of the accident.
Accidents Involving Damage to Unattended Car or Unattended Property
A driver involved in an accident resulting only in property damage must place, in a conspicuous location, a note that states their name, address, and the name and address of the owner of the vehicle, and must also notify the police.
Driver’s Duty to Notify Police Department
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or property damage must immediately by the quickest means of communication give notice to the nearest police officer or police office.
Accident Reports Filed By Police Departments
Every police officer who investigates an accident must prepare and written report and forward this report to the commission with five (5) days of the accident.
Open Alcohol Container Law
A driver or passenger must not be in possession of an opened container of an alcoholic beverage or consume a controlled substance while the car is traveling on New Jersey roadways.
An opened alcoholic beverage container can be kept only in the trunk of a vehicle, behind the rearmost upright seat, or in the living quarters of a motor home. It cannot be kept in the utility or glove compartment. Passengers of a hired vehicle can consume and possess an opened container.
Section 39:4-51a and Section 39:4-51b
Driving Under Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance
A driver must not drive after drinking an alcoholic beverage or consuming an intoxicant in an amount which renders the driver incapable of driving safely along roadways. In New Jersey, a driver is guilty of the offense of operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08 or higher.
Ignition Interlock Device
A driver who is guilty of driving while under the influence of an intoxicant might be made to have installed at his or her own expenses an ignition interlock device. The ignition interlock device will serve to restore the driver’s driving privileges during the pendency of the driver’s probation. If an ignition device is installed, it must be installed in every car owned or operated by the driver.
An ignition interlock is a device which measures any amount of alcohol contained in a driver’s body. Before starting the car the driver must blow into a tube emanating from the ignition interlock device. If the device then detects a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than is permitted by law the car will not start and the violation will be reported to the prosecutor, the probation officer, and/or the judge. At that point the driver may be subject to loss of driving privileges, immediate arrest and incarceration up to the maximum term provided by law.
For a second and subsequent offense of driving under the influence of an intoxicant, a driver will be fined, sentenced to serve community service, imprisoned, and be required to install an ignition interlock device on their vehicle(s).
New Jersey Dram Shop Law
New Jersey has a modified Dram Shop Law. Dram Shop Law refers to the liability of private social hosts, bars, hotels nightclubs and other commercial establishments who serve alcohol to patrons or to minors for injuries intoxicated patrons or minors cause to third parties such as in car accidents.
A private social host is the host at a private party, such as a wedding reception, a corporate sponsored event, a gathering of friends at a private residence, where alcohol is served not for profit.
Under New Jersey law, it is a violation of the liquor control laws for a social host or a commercial establishment to serve alcohol to a minor or a person under the influence of liquor.
However, the law stops there. Even if a social host or a commercial establishment is found to have violated the liquor control law, they are not liable for the actions of the intoxicated person.
For violating the liquor control laws, such as knowingly providing alcohol to a minor or selling alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person, a social host or a commercial establishment can be fined, and the establishment may lose its liquor license.
For an injured third party to succeed in a claim for personal injuries or property damage against a commercial establishment or social host, the injured third party must file a lawsuit alleging negligence by the establishment or the social host. While presenting a case in court, the injured third-party may cite the violation of liquor control laws by the establishment or the social host.
Financial Responsibility Car Insurance Minimum Limits
In the State of New Jersey, each motor vehicle must be covered by an insurance policy that includes liability coverage of the following amounts for all damages resulting from an accident:
- At least $15,000 per person
- At least $30,000 for two (2) or more people
- $5,000 per occurrence for property damage
For more information, see the State Department of Banking and Insurance website.
New Jersey Insurance Information
For information about auto insurance and liability in New Jersey, see the State of New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance website.
Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)
In New Jersey, the victim in a car accident can sue the negligent driver for compensation. The victim’s liability in causing the accident, their comparative negligence, affects the amount of compensation the victim receives.
If the victim contributed less than 51% of the negligence that caused the accident, then their compensation is reduced by the amount they contributed to the accident.
If the victim contributed 51% or more of the negligence that caused the accident, then the victim is barred from receiving any compensation.
Example of Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)
One morning, Jackson was driving north on his way to work. At an intersection, he pulled into the left turn lane. At the same time, Melanie approached the intersection from the opposite direction. Suddenly, Jackson turned left into Melanie’s lane and their cars collided.
Melanie sustained serious brain injuries and damage to her car, totaling in $100,000 worth of damages.
After their investigation, the police determined that Jackson had failed to yield according to traffic laws. A pedestrian witness told police he saw Melanie texting at the time Jackson’s car crashed into Melanie’s. As a result, the police issued Melanie a citation for using a handheld mobile device while driving.
Melanie sued Jackson for $100,000 and claimed he was 100% at fault for the accident because he did not yield to her right-of-way. At trial, the jury found Jackson liable for failing to yield the right-of-way. However, the jury also found Melissa liable for using a handheld mobile device while driving and partially responsible for the accident.
The verdict stated Jackson’s negligence equaled 70% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 30%. The jury awarded Melanie only $70,000 dollars.
In the event the jury had found Jackson’s negligence equaled 49% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 51%, the jury would be barred by law from awarding Melanie any compensation for the damages.
Comparative Negligence: Section 59:9-4
Right of Way: Section 39:4-90
Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices: Section 39:4-97.3
New Jersey’s No Fault Car Insurance
In New Jersey, the law gives car owners the option of purchasing no-fault car insurance. No-fault insurance allows a person, who is injured in a car accident or whose property is damaged, to file a claim with their own car insurance company.
No-fault insurance allows a person to avoid pursuing a negligent driver for compensation for damages. No-fault insurance does not compensate for pain and suffering, and the amount of personal injury protection (PIP) insurance purchased by the injured party determines their coverage.
Drivers who fail to obtain car insurance, who are found to have been driving under the influence, or who intentionally cause an accident lose their right to attempt to recover compensation for the economic and non-economic losses they sustained as a result of the accident.
Statute of Limitations
New Jersey has a two (2) year statute of limitations for property damage and personal injury claims. This means if a driver, passenger, or passerby is injured or sustains property damage at the hands of a negligent driver, the victim must make their insurance claim within two (2) years of knowing that their loss or expense was caused by accident, and not later than four (4) years after the accident.
Small Claims Courts
In New Jersey, victims of car accidents can choose to sue the negligent driver in small claims court. In New Jersey, the jurisdiction of a small claims court regarding personal injury and property damage is limited to a maximum of $3,000, exclusive of filing fees and court costs.
To submit a claim in small claims court, visit the New Jersey State Judiciary website.
New Jersey Government Tort Claims – Sovereign Immunity
In New Jersey, it is possible to submit a claim against a governmental agency or its employees for personal injury or property damage as a result of negligence on the part of the governmental agency or its employees. The claim must refer to an lawful action on the part of the governmental agency or employee performed in the scope of their duties.
If the injury or property damage occurred as a result of an unlawful action, then the claimant can sue only the person(s) who caused injury or property damage individually. The governmental agency would not be liable.
If Melissa, an engineer with the Newark Planning Department, ran a red light on her way to a worksite and caused an accident, then the City of Newark would be liable for the property damage and personal injuries caused her.
If Melissa stopped for a few drinks and became intoxicated before heading to a worksite and causing an accident, then the City of Newark can claim sovereign immunity. Melissa performed an unlawful act and was not acting in the scope of her duties when she became intoxicated on her way to the worksite.
To seek compensation for damages, injured parties would have to sue Melissa personally. The determination of whether or not Melissa was acting within the scope of her duties would have to be decided during a trial.
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