New Jersey State Senate Passes Law to Require Ignition Interlock Devices for First Offense DWIs

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is deciding whether to sign a proposed law which would change the punishments for individuals convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI).

The bill arrived at Christie’s desk after the New Jersey State Senate passed it by an overwhelming margin of 29 to 4. The bill already passed the New Jersey State Assembly last June.

If the law is officially enacted, first-time DWI offenders would no longer face mandatory suspension of their licenses for 3 months. The law would change the mandatory license suspension period to just 10 days.

However, the bill would impose a different kind of penalty on first-time offenders: the installation of ignition interlock devices on the offenders’ primary vehicles. Under current NJ DWI law, only first-time offenders with blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above .15 percent are required to install the ignition interlock devices.

The legislation would require anyone convicted of driving with a BAC of .08 percent to .10 percent to install the breath test device for a period of 3 months. Anyone convicted of a first offense DWI with a BAC of .10 percent to .15 percent would have to install the device for as long as 1 year.

Ignition interlock devices prevent drivers from starting their cars until they register a clean breath sample. This is important because some drivers with suspended driver’s licenses are still able to continue driving under the current system. According to Nicholas Scutari, a state senator and municipal prosecutor, many DWI offenders whom he has prosecuted had their licenses suspended and then “walked out to their car and drove home.”

The proposed bill received support from several organizations, including New Jersey Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). According to MADD, 24 states already require the installation of ignition interlock devices for all drunk driving offenders.

Additionally, similar laws in Louisiana, New Mexico, Arizona, and Oregon have reportedly coincided with a massive 30 percent decline in drunk driving-related deaths. That’s why the director of the New Jersey MADD group recently stated, “The long and short of it is it’s going to save lives.”

Despite the widespread support for the law, it still has a few opponents. Dan Phillips, the legislative liaison for the Administrative Office of the Courts, testified in front of the New Jersey Assembly Judiciary Committee and argued that the proposed law is flawed because it only requires an ignition interlock device on the drunk driving offender’s primary vehicle, not their secondary vehicles.

Phillips also suggested that the law might result in a court clog because it would require judges in DWI cases to “go through a long analysis.”

Other opponents have questioned the cost of enacting the new drunk driving legislation. Governor Christie will obviously need to take some time to carefully consider his options before reaching a final decision about the proposed law. However, he has just 45 days to take action on the bill.

To learn more about this legislation, check out the article entitled “Major Changes to N.J. Drunk Driving Law Reach Christie’s Desk.”

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