The sobering truth is that suspended DUI offenders continue to drive without licenses or insurance. While the evidence suggests that suspension alone does not prevent DUI offenders from driving illicitly, state legislators have focused their efforts on other preventative measures which would inhibit offenders from accessing their vehicles.
In February of 2013, a New Jersey Senate panel approved Bill No. 2427, making installation of ignition interlock devices, rather than license suspension, the primary penalty for DUI offenders. The new law would supplement “Ricci’s Law,” enacted in January of 2010, which for the first time required offenders with a blood-alcohol concentration of more than .15 percent, and those who refused to submit to a breath analysis, to have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle for a period of six months following a period of license suspension.
According to most studies, installation of an interlock device in an offender’s vehicle reduces alcohol-impaired driving in comparison to alternative sanctions. However, according to a joint report published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, “the potential for interlock programs to reduce alcohol-related crashes is currently limited by the small proportion of offenders who participate in the programs and the lack of persistent beneficial effect once the interlock is removed.” The recently approved bill would change New Jersey’s drunk driving laws, requiring anyone convicted under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50 to install an interlock device in his or her car – even first offenders.
Opponents of the bill argue that it is unfair to treat first offenders the same as repeat offenders in this respect. However, the argument clearly ignores statistics indicating that a person often drives while impaired by alcohol 200 to 2000 times before being arrested once. What has been categorized by critics as an insufficient “one-size-fits-all” solution, can more appropriately be labeled as zero-tolerance policy for drunk driving.
Critics of mandatory installation of interlock devices argue that such laws are simply not effective. As is often the case, offenders can simply drive an unregistered vehicle or one registered to another person. Also, with the increased use of ignition interlock devices, abusers continually craft clever schemes to tamper with or defeat the device and avoid alcohol detection. Therefore, the interlock technology must constantly evolve to become easier to test but harder to manipulate. Furthermore, the use of an ignition interlock device does not necessarily lead to long-term changes in the propensity to drink and drive that last beyond the period of installation.
Often, however, problems with such a penalty are inherent in the judicial system itself; one such problem being that installation is not compelled until conviction – not the arrest – creating the all-too-familiar scenario in which additional offenses are committed prior to the disposition of a first DUI offense.
Nonetheless, several states have adopted similar legislation. States that have examined recidivism rates among DUI offenders required to install ignition interlocks versus those offenders who are not compelled to install the devices have reported extraordinary results. For example, New Mexico, the first state in the nation to mandate installation of interlock devices in 2005, has found a reduction in drunk-driving recidivism of over 60 percent, along with a 19 percent drop in drunk-driving fatalities in the state from 2004 through 2007. A study in Ohio also found similar results, reporting that recidivism rates were three times higher for offenders who received a license suspension compared with offenders that have been subjected to interlock devices.
One of the most recent states to adopt similar legislation was New York. Thirty-eight days after a drunk driver tragically took the life of eleven-year-old Leandra Rosado in October of 2009, Governor Paterson of New York signed Leandra’s Law in an attempt to curtail drunk driving within the state. Although the success of the law has yet to be determined, the New York law-makers remain optimistic that the legislation will save lives.
Various advocacy groups also continue to support such measures. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), “the nation’s largest nonprofit working to protect families from drunk driving and underage drinking,” continues to endorse implementation of interlock device programs and mandatory installation laws. Referring to surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), MADD asserts that ignition interlocks have proven to be quite effective in reducing repeat drunk driving offenses by 67 percent.
According to a study by the New Jersey Law Revision Commission, up to 80 percent of offenders whose licenses have been suspended as the result of a DUI conviction continue to drink and continue to drive despite not having a license. According to the study, “[d]espite ongoing efforts to increase awareness of, and decrease the incidence of, driving while intoxicated, it remains a serious problem, both in New Jersey and nationwide.” New Jersey Senate Bill No. 2427 provides a worthwhile means of incapacitation for convicted DUI offenders, creating an opportunity to save the lives of New Jersey drivers.
All Rights Reserved – Justin M. Smigelsky, Esq.