New Jersey senators voted Thursday to change the penalties for drunken driving, requiring all first-time DWI offenders to install Breathalyzer-like devices in their vehicles in lieu of lengthy suspensions of their licenses.

The legislation was praised by the safety group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which said New Jersey would become the 25th state to require first-time DWI offenders to install ignition-interlock devices.

The bill, which passed the Senate, 29-4, on Thursday and was approved, 46-15 with 14 abstentions, in the Assembly in June, now heads to Gov. Christie.

Researchers for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that use of the devices decreased rearrest rates for alcohol-impaired driving offenses by 67 percent compared with drivers whose licenses were suspended.

Drunken-driving deaths have been reduced by 30 percent in four other states that have effectively implemented the law, said Frank Harris, director of state government affairs for MADD.

Pennsylvania is considering similar ignition-interlock legislation, he said.

Of the 542 people killed in New Jersey car crashes in 2013, at least 143 had consumed some alcohol, according to state police. Alcohol-related fatalities were down 15 percent from a year earlier.

Suspending a license does not guarantee an offender won't drive, said Assemblyman Joe Lagana (D., Bergen), a sponsor of the bill. And current law does not provide for work exemptions, he said.

The new legislation "allows the person who's made this terrible mistake . . . to actually function in society without having to really change the way they do everything," he said.

Repeat offenders and those who register blood-alcohol content of 0.15 or greater are already required to install the device, which is about the size of a cellphone. Drivers have to blow into the device to start their vehicle. If it detects alcohol, the car won't start.

For first-time offenders who register a blood-alcohol content of or greater than the legal definition of 0.08 as drunken driving, but less than 0.10, the court would suspend their license for 10 days, during which they would have to install the device and maintain it for three months. The period of time would increase based on degree of intoxication.

A driver's license would be reinstated by the Motor Vehicle Commission only upon showing proof of the installation. Failure to install the device would be a disorderly persons offense, punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

Under current law, first-time offenders lose their license for three months to a year, pay up to $500 in fines, and can face jail time.

A judge could still order license suspension instead of the device requirement under aggravating circumstances.

For second and subsequent offenses, motorists would have to install the device in each car they use and for longer periods of time.

Motorists would face similar penalties for refusing to take a breath test.

Source: Philly.com


Last updated on: 2015-02-12 | Link to this post