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Stender & Caputo Bill to Toughen Drunk Driving Penalties OK’d by Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Linda Stender (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union) and Ralph R. Caputo (D-Essex) to toughen penalties for driving while under the influence of alcohol in New Jersey was approved Monday by an Assembly panel.

“Every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. Innocent people are dying because of the irresponsible choices of others,” said Stender. “Under this bill, if you get caught drinking and driving, you face having to install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle, having your driving privileges restricted or losing them all together.”

The bill (A-3835) revises penalties for various drunk driving offenses, including mandating the installation of an ignition interlock device, restricting and revoking driving privileges.

An ignition interlock device acts like a breathalyzer on your dashboard. Before the vehicle’s motor can be started, the driver must deliver a breath sample into the device, and if the analyzed result is greater than the pre-programmed level, the device prevents the vehicle from being started.

“In 2010, alcohol-impaired driving crashes accounted for nearly one-third of all traffic-related deaths in the United States. This bill helps send a stern message to drivers who fail to see the danger they put themselves and others when they drink and drive,” said Caputo. “If you choose to be irresponsible by drinking and driving, then you will have your driving privileges limited or have to install the equivalent of a breathalyzer in your car to do the reasoning for you.”

Under the bill, whenever a person commits the offense of driving under the influence or refusing to submit to a breath test, the person would be required to install an ignition interlock device. Per the bill, a court would first order the suspension of the person’s driver’s license for a period of 10 days, during which period the person would have to install the device, unless one is already installed.

For a second offense, the person during this same 10-day period would be required to obtain a restricted use driver’s license with various court-ordered driving restrictions, issued by the Chief Administrator of the Motor Vehicle Commission. If the person does not own or lease a motor vehicle and there is no vehicle the person principally operates, the court would instead order the person to forfeit his right to operate a motor vehicle over the state’s highways. For a third or subsequent offense, the penalty is the same under current law, which is a 10-year suspension of a person’s driving license.

A person who fails to install an ignition interlock device as ordered by a court, or who drives a device-equipped vehicle after being started by means other than the person blowing into the device, or who drives an unequipped vehicle, would be guilty of a disorderly person’s offense. A disorderly person’s offense is ordinarily punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to six months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Furthermore, the court would suspend the person’s driver’s license.

The bill was released by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.