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NJ Leads Next of Kin Notification Push

by Roger Lanctot | Jan 29, 2018

As a parting gift to New Jersey, the automobile industry, the nation and the world, former New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, signed legislation establishing an emergency contract registry for cars that is linked to the vehicle identification number (VIN). The new law requires the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) to allow vehicle owners to submit their VIN to the statewide emergency contact information registry program known as the “Next of Kin Registry.”

The Next of Kin Registry in New Jersey was created in 2011 by a law known as “Sara’s Law” for Sara Dubinin, a 19-year-old woman who died in 2007 from injuries in a car crash. Her family had to wait hours for notification of the crash – valuable time that might have allowed family members to provide critical life-saving information or simply to say a final farewell.

This groundbreaking law effectively sets the standard for next of kin registries nationwide and other states can be expected to follow suit – ultimately setting the stage for a national next of kin registry. A next step for New Jersey, and other states, will likely be new vehicle registration forms used at the MVC and by dealers that include next of kin registration information.

The importance of such a registry is not obvious in a post-OnStar, post-smartphone world. Most people assume that automatic crash notification systems such as OnStar, that are built into cars, are designed to or at least able to notify family members along with emergency responders in the event of a crash. The reality is that OnStar call center personnel cannot release next of kin contact information even to law enforcement representatives or emergency responders without the consent of the subscriber.

If the subscriber, involved in a crash, is unconscious, he or she cannot give consent and the OnStar operator (or the operator from an equivalent service provider) cannot share this information. Police officers and emergency responders are left to rummage through glove compartments and wallets to identify crash victims and hope for the best – wasting time and effort.

Cara Macek, of the Governors Highway Safety Association, was quoted in Mega Dealer News saying “that for medical services and first responders any new initiative to accelerate communications surrounding traffic incidents is positive.”

"It is positive when state government entities are willing to help communications," she told Mega Dealer News.

The Mega Dealer News report further noted: “’In the aftermath of a serious car crash, emergency personnel need to be able to communicate with the victim's family in a timely fashion, whether it's to secure information regarding the person's medical history or, in the most tragic cases, allowing them to say their final goodbye,’ Tyler Izen, executive director of Car Dealers Saving Lives, said in a statement. ‘When seconds count, having immediate access to an emergency contact is essential.’”

Under the new law, the New Jersey MVC will allow any state driver license holder to voluntarily submit the name and telephone number of two emergency contacts. The information submitted to the next of kin registry would include the VIN of any vehicle owned or leased, or authorized to be used by the permit holder or licensee.

Izen added, in the Mega Dealer News report: “’Having a designated emergency contact can help eliminate some of the guesswork that health care professionals otherwise may go through as they assist a victim who is unable to communicate his or her wishes. More importantly, it can limit the chances that family members will experience the kind of anguish Sara Dubinin's parents did in 2007, when they received notification over two hours later that their daughter had been in a crash that ultimately was fatal. Taking a few minutes to register a vehicle identification number in the Next of Kin Registry can pre-emptively reduce chaos and heartache in the unfortunate event of a serious roadside emergency.’”

The issue calls to mind another curious reality – the fact that privacy and liability obsessed car makers do not share crash information with other road users. This means that when an OnStar-equipped vehicle from General Motors (or similarly equipped BMW, Mercedes or Lexus, etc.) is involved in a crash the crash data is not immediately shared with other road users.

When automatic crash notification technology was originally conceived, the concealing of crash information from service subscribers may have made some sense. In a post-Waze world, however, there is no longer any justification for failing to notify other road users of a known crash in as timely a manner as possible.

GM is preparing to bring to market a new traffic information solution with a new third-party service provider. Maybe at long last GM will integrate the probe data from the vehicles on its network as well as any real time crash data as it occurs – paving the way for the rest of the industry to follow. It is time for privacy to take a back seat to safety. Timely notification is essential. New Jersey is pointing the way forward.

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