As state lawmakers put on a final push in New Jersey to approve bills before the regular session ends in about seven weeks, an effort to toughen the penalty for driving under the influence could draw consideration.
Awaiting clearance to the Assembly floor for a vote, one bill is intended to increase the use of ignition interlock devices for drunken drivers. The measure – A3073 – was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee during the spring but has since remained in the Appropriations Committee.
Interlocks are hooked up to the ignition of vehicles. Once such a device is installed, a driver must blow into a mouthpiece, which measures the amount of alcohol on a person’s breath. If the driver blows clean, the car will then start; if not, it won’t budge.
In addition, the devices often require drivers to re-blow in the machine after a designated period of time, to ensure that they have not convinced someone else to blow into the mouthpiece for them, or that they haven’t been drinking since getting behind the wheel.
Advocates for stricter drunken driving rules cite statistics that show drivers who are convicted on driving while intoxicated usually have driven drunk between 80 and 100 times before being caught.
A total of 46 states require the devices in some cases. In New Jersey, judges have authority to require use of ignition interlocks for repeat offenders or to order the person to hand over the vehicle registration and license plates for two years.
The bill would require all people convicted of driving while intoxicated to have interlocks installed on their vehicles.
First-time offenders would be required to have the devices installed for six months to a year. Repeat offenders would have the devices for one to three years.
“We need to send a message loud and clear to both habitual and would-be drunk drivers: the party’s over,” Assemblyman Nelson Albano, D-Cape May Court House, said in a written statement.
If the bill advances from the Assembly, it still would need Senate approval to move to the governor’s desk. All legislation must pass both chambers before the end of the regular session, which is scheduled for Jan. 11.
To view other legislative activities of interest for New Jersey in 2009, click here.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
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