Bill Would Dramatically Change NJ’s Drunk Driving Law
Under a proposed bill, first-time convicted drunk drivers in New Jersey with a blood alcohol level of .15 or less would be able to drive again after just 10 days of license suspension, but they would be required to install an ignition interlock device.
The bill (A-1368) to create the new statute was approved by the full Assembly in June and is ready for a vote in the State Senate (S-385). The measure has supporters and detractors.
"Now, New Jersey does have a tough law. It's easier to prosecute, more efficient to prosecute, expensive and long license suspensions have been the rule of law in the past," said Bob Ramsey, author of the New Jersey Drunk driving law, a yearly publication that provides a neutral explanation of the statutes. "This bill tremendously lessens the penalties for drunk driving for first offenders."
Critics of the legislation also cite the fact that it only requires the ignition interlock devices to be installed in the offender's "primary car." Ramsey said there is nothing to stop an offender from driving someone else's car. He also explained that the bill would not be fair to everyone because there's no funding mechanism for the interlock devices.
"There are poor people in New Jersey and this really discriminates against people who are poor. It's really kind of upper, middle-class justice," Ramsey said.
Under the bill, a first-time offender with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher but less than .10 would get a 10-day license suspension, during which the person would have to install an ignition interlock device in one motor vehicle owned, leased, or principally operated by the person, whichever the person most often operates, for three months. If the blood alcohol level was .10 or higher but less than .15 the court would order a 10-day license suspension. During that time, the offender would have to install an ignition interlock device for not less than seven months, or more than one year.
Those who back the legislation said it will make everyone safer because it would require all convicted drunk drivers to install the interlock device.
"Interlock devices are preferable to suspension. They have an ability to reduce recidivism and to get drunk drivers off of our roadways," said Cathleen Lewis, director of Public Affairs and Government Relations for AAA New Jersey when she testified on the bill in March. "The reason interlock devices work so well is because they change behavior."