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Hastings Law Journal

Abstract

Sleep-deprived drivers pose a serious threat to the public, killing and injuring tens of thousands of Americans each year. Nevertheless, this problem was largely ignored until the summer of 2003, when the New Jersey legislature made national headlines by passing Maggie's Law. Maggie's Law is a unique revision to New Jersey's vehicular homicide statute that permits unprecedented criminal penalties for drowsy drivers who are involved in deadly automobile accidents. The law's passage has had an effect far outside New Jersey's borders, leading many other states and the federal government to consider similar legislation.

This Note details the history and language of Maggie's Law, and acknowledges that drowsy driving is a major safety concern that policymakers have failed to address adequately. This Note argues, however, that the language of Maggie's Law will significantly reduce its effectiveness. In particular, this Note addresses problems concerning the law's under- and over-inclusiveness, ambiguity, and focus. In addition, this Note highlights the difficulty of enforcing the law effectively.

Recognizing that steps must be taken to address the danger created by drowsy drivers, this Note proposes alternative language to the current version of Maggie's Law. It contends that a "totality of the circumstances" approach rather than the twenty-four-hour limit in Maggie's Law provides better structures for criminal sanctions against drowsy drivers. This Note also emphasizes the need to couple non-judicial strategies with tougher criminal penalties in order to more effectively reduce drowsy driving accidents.

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