Garden State Moving Closer to Mandatory Ignition Interlock Devices for all Convicted Offenders

While most people never imagine that they will be arrested and charged with driving under the influence, the fact remains that hundreds of drivers every week in New Jersey find themselves facing a charge of drunk driving, impaired operation of a motor vehicle due to prescription medications or illicit substances, or simply refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test. These days, with the rather stiff fines and other monetary penalties (not to mention possible jail time) that may come from a DWI-DUI conviction, it still amazes some people that so many DWI arrests actually take place on a daily basis.

For a great number of individuals who receive a drunken driving summons, the financial consequences are quickly learned, but there are also other penalties associated with a DWI conviction that do not always come quickly to mind. These include license suspension and the requirement of having an ignition interlock device (IID) installed on one’s vehicle for a period of time following the end of the aforementioned suspension. The inconvenience and stigma attached to these other post-conviction penalties have their own effect on those who have already fell the sting of fines and auto insurance premium assessments.

For anyone unfamiliar with IIDs, these devices are designed to prevent a vehicle from being started if the driver’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) exceeds 0.05 percent. Currently, in the case of first-time offenders, it is up to the court’s discretion to order the use of an IID for six to 12 months following restoration of a driver’s license. However, for those individuals convicted of DWI based on a BAC of 0.15 or greater, the law calls for mandatory installation of an IID during the license suspension period plus aforementioned six to 12 months following restoration of one’s license.

However, these current requirements for installation of an IID may be changing here in New Jersey. News reports earlier this year indicate that current legislation making its way in Trenton could require all motorists convicted of drunk driving to have a mandatory IID installed on their vehicle, but still be allowed to drive and maintain their driver’s license. Under a bill being considered by the state legislature, the plan would allow convicted drunk drivers to keep their license while requiring an interlock device to be installed on their vehicle.

Traffic safety and anti-drunk driving advocates believe that the change in state law could actually change driver behavior and reduce the number of repeat offenders. Those who believe that the application of interlock devices in lieu of license suspensions, likely feel that the move is a win-win for everyone. Right now, there are no provisions for a “restricted” license following a DWI conviction, which means that drivers found guilty of DUI-DWI cannot operate a motor vehicle to get to work or school. The potential for lost employment due to transportation issues has always been a problem for those individuals who have lost their DWI case in court.

The legislation as it appeared in late March would call for a convicted first-time offender (with a BAC of 0.08 to 0.10 percent) to have an IID installed for three months. Someone who was convicted of DWI based on a BAC 0.10 and 0.15 percent would be required to have an IID installed on his or her vehicle for seven to 12 months. Even offenders convicted of DWI with a BAC of 0.15 percent get a better deal than currently available; though a mandatory license suspension of between seven and 12 months will be required, the defendant would be able to apply to have an IID installed on his vehicle after three months, allowing a quicker return to driving, albeit with an interlock device monitoring that individual’s BAC.

In terms of multiple offenders, a second DWI would result in a two- to four-year license suspension instead of the current two-year suspension. Third-time convicted offenders face a very long 10 to 20 suspension versus the current 10-year suspension. If passed, the law would allow judges to order the installation of an IID for an additional period following the restoration of the driver’s license.

Critics of the bill, especially as it existed before the New Year, had said that there are a number of problems seen with the implementation of the potential new law. Time will tell whether convicted drunken drivers will have a better chance at holding on to their licenses in the future.

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