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Major Change in NJ DWI Law Advances

New Jersey lawmakers have advanced a bill that would allow all convicted drunken drivers the option of having ignition interlock devices installed in their cars as an alternative to license revocation. The bill, which passed the State Senate 29-4, now goes to the desk of Governor Chris Christie.

The devices require a breath test before a vehicle can be started, as well as random tests while driving. The proposed law drastically changes the current statute by essentially removing the mandatory license suspensions for first offenders, and replacing them with the mandatory installation of an ignition interlock.

The legislation, sponsored by Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-22), would require the devices for a minimum of three months for first-time offenders if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was below .10 – and up to a year if their BAC was above .10.

For a first-time offender, the only license suspension would be for 10 days or less, depending on how soon the ignition interlock is installed. Second-time offenders would face harsher penalties, with a two-to-four year interlock installation and minimum 1-year restricted-use license requirement.  Those with three or more DWI offenses would have their license suspended and be required to use the device for 10 to 20 years.

Currently, New Jersey requires ignition interlock devices for repeat offenders and first-time offenders whose BAC is .15 or higher. The state’s legal limit is .08. Second and Third offenders would still have a mandatory minimum license suspension of one (1) year, but the bill would also create a restricted-use driver’s license, permitting the offender to drive for work purposes during certain times and within specific locations.

It is hard to imagine any of my current or former clients would not greatly favor this proposed legislation over the current statute. The license suspension is by far the greatest imposition on their lives, most of all their ability to remain employed without a license for seven (7) months for the average first offender.

Supporters of the bill, led by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the devices are an effective way to help drunken drivers change their habits while also punishing them with restrictions on their lifestyle and protecting other people on the roadways.

There are some downsides of the ignition interlock of course. The scientific reliability of these devices has not been proven in New Jersey, so it will be ripe for challenge. Offenders must also pay for the devices, which average about $1,000.00 per year.

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