State bill to expand ignition locks for DWI offenders

New Jersey’s drunken-driving laws may be altered, increasing the number of individuals who will have to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicles to permit them to drive legally.

According to the proposal, if an individual is convicted of driving under the influence, their driver’s license will be suspended for 10 days and they will have to install an ignition interlock device in the vehicle for 3 to 6 months.

Individuals arrested in New Jersey for driving under the influence with more than 0.08% blood-alcohol content will have their driver’s license suspended for three months to 12 months and other than that, they will also face fines and surcharges. The only 1st-time offenders required to install ignition interlocks in their vehicles will be those who drive their vehicle with a BAC level of more than 0.15%.Those individuals who violate state DWI laws again in the following 10 years face loss of their driver’s license for 2 years and serve jail for two to 90 days. They will also be required to install an ignition interlock to stop them from driving drunk.

Interlock ignition device is a device which is installed in the vehicle of the drunk driver to make the individual and other people safe on the roads as the person has to breathe in the device to verify the individual’s BAC level is below the legal limit before the device allows the engine of the car to start. According to, installation by a state-approved mechanic can cost between $100 and $200, and it can be rented for $70 to $100 if an individual needs it for a specific time period.

In late June, the bill cleared the state Senate. Earlier this month, it cleared the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee and is now before the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving proposed it as it is in favor of wider use of interlock devices. According to MADD, the interlock is more effective than a driver’s license suspension because 50 to 75% of convicted drunken drivers continue to drive even after their license is suspended.

Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, one of the bill sponsors said, “I think the goal should be to prevent drunk-driving. Not catch drunk drivers after they’ve driven drunk”. He said that most of the proof shows a tremendous amount of repeat offenders even if unintentionally they start to have one or two and that turns into five or six. According to him, only the suspension of license is not useful. He told about the accidents that killed 17-year-old Ricci Branca in July 2006 and 22-year-old John Elliott in July 2000. They were killed by individuals driving on a suspended license. He added, “We can suspend their license, but it doesn’t mean they won’t get behind the wheel and drive”.

The proposal of MADD is not supported by everyone and Sherri Branca said an individual should immediately lose their driver’s license once the person is convicted of driving under the influence. “If they lose their license, that is the best thing that could happen,” she said. After her son died, she and her family lobbied Trenton lawmakers to pass “Ricci’s Law.” Named after their son, it requires ignition interlocks for drivers convicted of driving with a BAC level more than 0.15 percent. Even though she lobbied for interlocks, she objected to what she saw was giving drunken drivers 2 chances. Those convicted in New Jersey of driving while intoxicated 3 times in a decade lose their license for ten years. Branca asked, “Why should you give them three chances? By the second time they could have killed someone”.

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Bill to toughen drunk driving penalties approved by Assembly Panel

On Monday, a bill was approved by an Assembly panel that was proposed by Assembly Democrats Linda Stender (D-Middlesex, Somerset, Union) and Ralph R. Caputo (D-Essex) to make the penalties for driving while under the influence of alcohol strict in New Jersey.

According to Stender, “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. 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 (A3835) altered the penalties for various DUI offenses in which making the installation of an ignition interlock device in the vehicles of drunk drivers mandatory, restricting and revoking driving privileges are included.

An ignition interlock device acts like a breathalyzer on the dashboard. Prior to starting a motor vehicle, the driver has to give a breath sample to the device and if the result is above than the pre-programmed level, then the device doesn’t allow the vehicle to start.

Caputo said, “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. 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”.

According to the bill, if any person commits the offense of DUI or refuses to give a breath sample for an intoxication test, the individual will be required to install an ignition interlock device in his/her vehicle. The court will order to suspend the driver’s license of a DUI offender for a period of ten days during which the person will have to install the device in the vehicle if the device is not installed. If the individual commits the DUI offense for the 2nd time then during this same time period of ten days, he/she 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 individual does not have his/her own motor vehicle then the court would instead order the person to lose his right to drive a motor vehicle over the state’s highways. If the individual commits a 3rd DUI offense, the penalty is suspension of their driving license for ten years.

An individual would be guilty of a disorderly person’s offense if he/she fails to install an ignition interlock device as ordered by a court or if he/she drives a device-equipped vehicle by giving a breath sample of any other individual. The penalty for disorderly person’s offense is imprisonment of up to 6 months and the offender has to pay a fine of up to $1,000. Other than that, the court would suspend the individual’s driver’s license.

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