‘Ricci’s Law’ Named for Egg Harbor Teen Killed by a Drunk Driving Hit-and-Run

(TRENTON) — Legislation Assemblymen Nelson T. Albano, Patrick J. Diegnan and Gordon M. Johnson sponsored to make ignition interlocks mandatory for all drunk driving offenses in New Jersey was signed into law Thursday by acting Gov. Stephen M. Sweeney.

“We need to send a message loud and clear to both habitual and would-be drunk drivers: the party’s over,” said Albano (D-Cumberland/Atlantic/Cape May), whose son was killed in 2001 by a repeat drunk driver. “If you get caught driving drunk you will face severe penalties and, through the interlocks, will only be able to operate your car when sober.”

“Ricci’s Law” honors the memory of Ricci Branca, a 17-year-old Egg Harbor Township teen. Ricci was bike riding with friends when a drunk driver plowed into the group and fled the scene. The bill was signed at the Branca home.

When police caught the driver, his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.339 percent – more than four times the state’s legal limit of 0.08 percent. Several other teens were gravely injured during the accident; Ricci died of his injuries four days later.

Ignition interlocks are devices similar to a breathalyzer that — at the order of the courts — can be installed on the steering column and wired into the ignition of motor vehicles of drunk driving offenders.

When attempting to start the vehicle, the driver must first blow into the device. If the interlock registers above a specific BAC — usually greater than 0.02 percent or 0.04 percent — the vehicle is rendered inoperable.

“If this legislation can save even one life, then it is well worth doing,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “Anything that makes it harder for drunk drivers to get behind the wheel of a car or truck should be immediately embraced.”

Under the Albano/Diegnan/Johnson measure, all persons convicted of drunk driving will be required to install an ignition interlock device in any motor vehicle principally owned by the offender, though first offenders would have to have a blood-alcohol content of at least 0.15 percent.

Prior law imposed driver’s license suspensions on all persons convicted of drunk driving. That penalty is retained.

Under the law, the interlock device will also be mandatory in all cases and, in addition, will also be required to be in effect during the period of time that the license is suspended.

Persons who are convicted of refusing the breath test also will be required to install an ignition interlock device.

“We owe it to every law-abiding driver to do everything in our power to keep drunk drivers off our roadways,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “Requiring mandatory interlocks will go a long way towards improving the safety of good drivers and the public.”

The court will require first time drunk driving offenders to install an ignition interlock device for a period of six months to one year.

Subsequent offenders would have to install the device for one to three years.

It will be a disorderly persons offense to blow into an ignition interlock device or otherwise start a motor vehicle equipped with such a device to provide a motor vehicle to the person required to have the device, or to tamper with such a device to circumvent its operation.

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