The Assembly Judiciary Committee on Monday approved legislation sponsored by Chairman John McKeon that would create a 19-member Commission on Drunk and Impaired Driving to take a broad look at the laws and programs New Jersey has in place to prevent and reduce this dangerous behavior.
Under the measure (AJR-168), the commission will be charged with examining methods to reduce the incidence of drunk and impaired driving and make recommendations to enhance government services, enforcement, education, and interventions to prevent drunk and impaired driving.
“Ultimately, our goal is for this commission to conduct a wholesale examination of the laws currently on our books in order to determine what’s working and what’s not in terms of enforcement and prevention measures,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “Do our laws adequately address the changing patterns and behavior of today’s society? Are we doing enough to emphasize the devastating effects of drunk driving? Who are we not reaching that we should? And are we taking advantage of the latest technology to prevent this behavior? These are just some of the issues that I hope the commission will examine to create a safer, more responsible environment on our roads.”
The commission would be comprised of the Attorney General, Director of Highway Traffic Safety, Superintendent of State Police, Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, Commissioner of Health, Commissioner of Transportation, Public Defender, Executive Director of the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Director of the Rutgers University Center of Alcohol Studies, and Administrative Director of the Courts.
The commission would also include two members of the Senate of different parties and two members of the General Assembly of different parties, as well as five public members to be appointed by the Governor, including a retired municipal court judge, municipal prosecutor, defense attorney, local law enforcement officer, and victims’ rights advocate.
Among the issues the commission would be tasked with considering are:
1) the effectiveness of the state’s current penalties for driving under the influence (DUI), refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test, driving with a suspended license for DUI, driving without a court-ordered ignition interlock device (IID), and related offenses, in preventing drunk and impaired driving and discouraging repeat offenses;
2) the state’s compliance with current federal law and regulations regarding repeat DUI offenders;
3) the need and practicality of proposals to extend the requirement of IIDs to first-time drunk driving offenders, the need for infrastructure to assure compliance with court-ordered IID installation and monitor IID “lockouts,” and the desirability of alternatives or exceptions to the use of IIDs;
4) the collective economic impact of fines, fees, surcharges, automobile insurance rates, ignition interlock costs, and loss of employment on drivers convicted of drunk or impaired driving;
5) improved responses to repeat offenders, including screening and treatment for alcohol or drug addiction, medication-assisted therapies, IIDs, electronic monitoring, intensive supervision, and criminal prosecution;
6) identifying the most effective delivery of screening and treatment for alcohol or drug addicted convicted drivers, including an examination of the costs and benefits of restructuring county-based Intoxicated Driver Resource Centers into regional addiction, treatment, and counseling centers administered by the Department of Human Services;
7) the need for procedural safeguards to guide the administrative release of convicted drivers sentenced to jail time to participate in work release or similar programs;
8) the modernization of distribution formulas for alcohol tax revenues dedicated to DUI enforcement;
9) the potential impact of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s holding in State v. Denelsbeck that additional penalties imposed on repeat offenders may trigger the right to a jury trial;
10) whether enhanced penalties for drunk drivers with high-blood alcohol content levels or driving in a school zone are effective in reducing DUI and DUI recidivism;
11) whether a restricted-use driver’s license should be made available to drunk and impaired offenders as an alternative to full loss of driving privileges or in combination with other penalties;
12) ensuring the safety of the public while DUI charges are pending, including use of pre-conviction administrative suspensions, IIDs, or electronic monitoring;
13) improving interagency communication and the integration of state and local automated systems to administer compliance with post-conviction DUI penalties, treatment, and release conditions; and
14) other evidence-based best practices for addressing the problem of drunk and impaired driving.
The commission is to organize within 30 days after a majority of its members have been appointed and report its findings and recommendations, including legislative proposals, to the Governor and to the Legislature within 12 months of organizing.