Scroll Top

Now Law: Downey & Benson Bill Aiming to Reduce Drunk Driving Offenses Revamps DUI Penalties, Encourages Use of Interlock Devices

Revamping New Jersey’s driving under the influence (DUI) penalties to deter repeat drunk driving offenses, bipartisan legislation that will focus state law more heavily on the use of ignition interlock devices (IIDs) as a preventative measure was signed into law on Friday.

The new law (formerly bill A-2089) is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Joann Downey and Daniel Benson.

“There is strong evidence that interlock devices are effective in reducing re-arrest rates while they are installed in offenders’ vehicles. A more widespread and sustained use of interlocks among people arrested for DUI could have a substantial impact on reducing alcohol-related crashes,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “Traditionally, the penalty for intoxicated driving has been a suspension of the driver’s license, but in the absence of a driver’s license, the individual may not be able to get to work, or, if their job requires driving, perform their duties. This can lead to the loss of employment, which can in turn lead to emotional consequences such as depression, thereby encouraging more of the substance abuse that led to the penalty in the first place.”

The International Council on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety has found that IIDs, when combined with a comprehensive monitoring and service program, lead to a 40 to 95 percent reduction in the rate of repeat drunk driving offenses among offenders as long as the IID remains on the vehicle.

State law has required repeat drunk drivers and drunk drivers with a high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to install an IID since January 2001, but installation of these devices is not mandatory for other first time offenders.

The new law revises penalties for drunk driving offenses – including a separate provision for drugged driving- particularly making changes to use of and applicable time periods covering, driver’s license forfeitures and mandatory installations of IIDs on motor vehicles owned or operated by the drivers. It also provides for an offense that involves a “drugged driver” – operating a motor vehicle under the influence of a narcotic, hallucinogen, or habit-producing drug – that the court would order a license forfeiture of not less than seven months or more than one year, with no option to instead operate a motor vehicle with an ignition interlock device installed.

“This law is an important step in improving safety by updating the definition of impaired driving for the realities of today’s opioid crisis and the potential for expansion of marijuana access, whether medicinal or commercial,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex).  “Also, by using alternatives to suspensions, such as interlock devices, we can reduce opportunities for drunk driving by offenders who may be tempted to drive while on suspension.”

Under previous law, the period of a driver’s license suspension for first time drunk driving offenders is based on the offender’s BAC and the driver’s license suspension for refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test is seven months to one year.  Also, the installation of an interlock device is discretionary for first time drunk driving offenders whose BAC is under 0.15 percent.  First time offenders whose BAC is 0.15 percent or higher and for drivers refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test are required to install a device in the motor vehicle they principally operate.

Previously, the law provided for a one year driver’s license suspension for failing to install an interlock device.  The term of the suspension would increase to 18 months under this law.