New Jersey State Senate Passes New DWI Law, Could Require Ignition Interlock Devices for First Offense DWI

Governor Chris Christie is considering a proposed law that would significantly alter the punishments for DWI offenses in the State of New Jersey.

The bill reached Christie’s desk after the New Jersey State Senate passed it by a count of 29 to 4. The bill previously passed the New Jersey State Assembly in June 2014.

If the bill is officially enacted into law, first-time DWI offenders would no longer be subject to a suspension of their drivers’ licenses for a period of 3–7 months. Instead, the mandatory license suspension period would be just 10 days.

However, the bill also requires the installation of ignition interlock devices on vehicles driven by anyone convicted of a first offense DWI. Under current New Jersey law, only first-time offenders with significantly high blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) above .15 percent have to install these devices.

As set forth by the legislation, anyone convicted of driving with a BAC of between .08 percent and .10 percent would need to install the ignition interlock device for a period of 3 months. Anyone caught with a BAC of between .10 percent and .15 percent would be required to install the device for up to 1 year.

Ignition interlock devices require drivers to register a clean breath sample before the vehicle will start. This is important because far too many drivers with suspended licenses are able to continue driving under the current system. Nicholas Scutari, a state senator and municipal prosecutor, said that he has prosecuted individuals who were suspended for drunk driving and then “walked out to their car and drove home.”

The bill received widespread support from a number of organizations, including New Jersey Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). According to MADD, 24 states already have a mandatory ignition interlock device requirement for all drunk driving offenders.

Moreover, similar laws in Arizona, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oregon have reportedly coincided with a 30 percent decline in drunk driving-related fatalities. As the director of the New Jersey MADD group observed, “The long and short of it is it’s going to save lives.”

However, the bill is not without its detractors. Dan Phillips, the legislative liaison for the Administrative Office of the Courts, appeared before the New Jersey Assembly Judiciary Committee and testified that the proposed law is flawed because it only requires the installation of an ignition interlock device on the DWI offender’s primary vehicle, not any secondary vehicles.

Phillips also testified that the law could lead to a court clog because it would complicate DWI cases and force judges to “go through a long analysis.”

Others have raised concerns about the cost of enacting the new legislation. However, the legislation would require DWI offenders to pay for the installation and maintenance of the ignition interlock devices.

Governor Christie will have to carefully consider both the pros and the cons of the proposed law. According to a Christie spokesman, the governor will carefully review the bill before arriving at a decision. Christie will have 45 days to take action.

For further information about this law, view the article entitled “Major Changes to N.J. Drunk Driving Law Reach Christie’s Desk.”

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