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Bill to eliminate mandatory license suspension ranks among the worst

image002A bill advancing through the New Jersey Senate to eliminate mandatory license suspension for first-time drunken drivers is ranking among the worst ideas to come out of Trenton.

According to the current drunk driving law, first time drunken drivers have to face a mandatory license suspension which can last anywhere from 3 to 12 months. The duration of license suspension depends on the driver’s blood alcohol content level at the time of the offense. Drivers with a BAC of 0.15 or higher have to face a license suspension for at least seven months. The driver will be required to install an ignition interlock device in their car depending on the Judges’ decision. Installation of an ignition interlock device is not mandatory under the current law.

The new bill has been sponsored by Republican Sen. Jennifer Beck (Monmouth), and Democrat Sens. Nicholas Scutari (Union), Jim Whelan (Atlantic), Nellie Pou (Passaic), Brian Stack (Hudson) and Loretta Weinberg (Bergen). It requires all new first-time drunken drivers to install an ignition interlock in their cars, whatever their BAC, and it also reduces the mandatory license suspension to just 10 days.

Moreover, if the offender is able to prove in court that he already had an interlock device installed in his vehicle at the time the sentence was handed down, the 10-day license suspension is waived and the driver is free to go without even losing his license.

Supporters of the bill argue that the bill will help reduce subsequent drunk driving offenses because it requires installation of an interlock for all first-time offenders instead of only those with a BAC level of 0.15 or more. With the installation of interlock devices, the offenders won’t be able to start their vehicles if they are drunk, hence, significantly reducing the number of repeat offenses.

This is something good, but critics argue why the mandatory license suspension is severely reduced, because that will not be beneficial for the public. Moreover, the bill will only help reduce repeat offenses, but it is not doing anything to deter first time offenses. The bill will only help drunken drivers by eliminating their primary punishment for DWI in the first place.

According to statistics, one death is caused as a result of drunk driving every 51 minutes nationally. Drunken drivers also result in 82% of fatal accidents on the roads. It is believed that drunken driving is so common, that one in every three people is affected or involved in a DWI-related crash in their lifetime.

In 2013, New Jersey reported a total of 24,313 DWI arrests and 154 fatalities as a result of drunk drivers. This figure is more than the combined number of total murders for the year 2013 in Atlantic City, Jersey City, Elizabeth, Paterson, Irvington, New Brunswick and Camden, one of the most dangerous cities in America.

Statistics also confirm that approximately 9,000 Americans are killed annually in criminal incidents which use firearms. Compared to that, approximately 10,000 people are killed every year in the United States as a result of drunk drivers.

These figures clearly show that drunken driving poses the same threat to innocent people as armed bad guys. Even though New Jersey’s lawmakers were quick to propose gun control legislation after high profile gun deaths, they do not appear to be willing to do the same in the case of drunk driving.

Supporters of strict drunk driving laws like MADD consider drunk drivers as killers and they think that reducing the penalties faced by drunk drivers will only result in an increase in the activity, resulting in more people being killed. Critics feel that penalties for first-time drunken drivers should be increased because based on the current DWI laws, only 25,000 drunken drivers are caught every year which is not good enough.

The state of New Jersey considers drunken driving a mere motor vehicle offense unlike New York, which considers it to be a criminal violation. This should be changed and made stricter by keeping mandatory driver license suspensions, requiring interlocks for all offenders and making it compulsory for first time offenders to face 48 hours imprisonment.

New Jersey laws need to be made stricter to reflect the severity of a drunk driving offense, because driving drunk once is one time too many.

By Jordan B. Rickards
on www.nj.com

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