An Assembly panel on Thursday approved bipartisan legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Joseph Lagana to revamp New Jersey’s DUI penalties to focus more heavily on the use of ignition interlock devices, which have proven more effective in reducing repeat drunk driving offenses.
Specifically, the bill (A-4016) would decrease the length of driver’s license suspensions for drunk driving and refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test, while increasing ignition interlock device (IID) requirements for these offenses. An IID is a small device that is wired to a vehicle’s ignition and requires a breath sample before the engine will start. If the IID detects alcohol on the driver’s breath, the engine will not start.
“While a license suspension, in theory, is supposed to punish a drunk driver, in actuality it typically imposes a severe financial hardship while doing little to prevent them from getting behind the wheel again while drunk,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Meanwhile, statistics have increasingly shown that ignition interlock devices have proven far better at reducing drunk driving. If there’s a more effective means to prevent this dangerous practice and protect public safety, we should be pursuing it.”
The International Council on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety maintains that IIDs, when combined with a comprehensive monitoring and service program, lead to a 40-95 percent reduction in the rate of repeat drunk driving offenses among offenders as long as the IID remains on the vehicle. A 2011 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine concluded that there is strong evidence that interlocks are effective in reducing re-arrest rates while they are installed in offenders’ vehicles and that more widespread and sustained use of interlocks among people arrested for DWI could have a substantial impact on alcohol-related crashes.
Under current law, the period of driver’s license suspension for first time drunk driving offenders is based on the offender’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). If the offender’s BAC is 0.08 percent or higher but less than 0.10 percent, the driver’s license is suspended for three months. If the offender’s BAC is 0.10 percent or higher, the driver’s license is suspended for seven months to one year. The driver’s license suspension for refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test currently is seven months to one year.
Under the bill, the driver’s license suspension for first time offenders with a blood alcohol concentration of between 0.08 percent and 0.10 would be reduced from three months to 30 days. The minimum seven month driver’s license suspension for first time offenders with a BAC of 0.10 percent or higher would be reduced to 45 days if the BAC is less than 0.15 percent and reduced to 90 days if the BAC is 0.15 percent or more. In addition, the driver’s license suspension for a first time offense of refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test would be reduced from a minimum of seven months to a maximum of one year to 90 days under the bill.
In order to more effectively prevent repeat drunk driving, the bill would make installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) mandatory for first time offenders and would be required during the license suspension, as well as for a specified period following the suspension. For first time offenders whose BAC is 0.08 or higher and less than 0.10 percent, the required period of installation would be three to six months; for a BAC of 0.10 percent or higher but less than 0.15 percent, the installation period would be six months to one year; and for a BAC of 0.15 percent or higher the installation period would be one year to 18 months.
Under current law, the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) is discretionary for first time drunk driving offenders whose BAC is under 0.15 percent; if required by the court, the IID is to be installed in the motor vehicle principally operated by the offender for six months to one year following the license suspension. First time offenders whose BAC is 0.15 percent or higher and first time offenders who refuse to submit to a breathalyzer test are required to install an IID in the motor vehicle they principally operate during the period of suspension, in addition to six months to one year following the suspension.
Drivers with multiple convictions of drunk driving or multiple convictions of refusing a breathalyzer would be required to install an IID on each motor vehicle they own or operate. Under current law, second or subsequent offenders are only required to install an IID on the vehicle principally operated by the offender.
The bill would prohibit a driver from removing an IID on the date of completing the required period of installation unless the driver provides to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission certification from the IID manufacturer that, within the final one-third of the installation period, the following conditions have been met:
– There were no attempts to start the motor vehicle with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher unless a re-test conducted within five minutes of the initial test indicates a BAC of less than 0.08 percent;
– There were no failures to take or pass a test with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher unless a re-test conducted within five minutes of the initial test indicates a BAC of less than 0.08 percent.
– The driver complied with all maintenance, repair, calibration, monitoring, or inspection requirements related to the IID.
Upon request, the data from the readings of the IID would be made available to the driver.
Finally, the bill would increase the license suspension for failing to install a required IID from the current one-year suspension to an 18-month suspension.
Lagana noted that about a third of all traffic fatalities in the state are attributable to drunken driving. New Jersey’s total number of fatalities has decreased from 709 in 2006 to 522 in 2015, and the number involving driving while intoxicated has dropped from 220 to 131 over the same period, according to statistics from the State Police.
The measure was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee. The bill would take effect four months following enactment and would apply to any offense occurring on or after the effective date.