July 3, 2013

As New Jersey DUI Deaths Rise Senate Passes Ignition Interlocks Bill

The bill requiring that anyone convicted of drunk driving must have ignition interlocks on their vehicles was passed by the New Jersey Senate, Thursday, June 27 with 34 “yes” votes to two “no” votes.

In contrast to a national trend showing a decrease in drunk driving related deaths, deaths related to drunk driving have been on the rise in New Jersey. According to Mothers Against Drug Driving (MADD), figures show a decrease nationwide of seven percent, from 10,759 in 2009 to 9,878 in 2011, and an increase in New Jersey from 152 in 2009 to 193 in 2011.

MADD had called on New Jersey senators to push forward Senate Bill 2427 (S-2427), authored by Senator Nicholas P. Scutari, as “lifesaving legislation to stop drunk driving.”

“S-2427 is the solution to the problems caused by repeat offender drunk drivers,” said attorney Steven Benvenisti, spokesperson for MADD New Jersey. “States that have required ignition interlock devices for all offenders have seen as much as a 46 percent reduction in fatalities.”

According to MADD, ignition interlocks are critical to eliminating drunk driving, as a majority of convicted drunk drivers will continue to drive even with a suspended license.

An ignition interlock device is a mechanism akin to a breathalyzer that is installed on a motor vehicle’s dashboard. Before the vehicle’s motor can be started, the driver first must exhale into the device; if the breath-alcohol concentration is above a predetermined level, the device prevents the engine from being started. Breath samples are required thereafter at random times. If a significant level of alcohol is detected, an alarm will sound to warn the driver to stop driving and turn off the ignition.

Eighteen states require interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers. As of 2010, with the passage of Ricci’s Law, ignition interlocks are required for repeat and first-time offenders with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or greater.

S-2427 would strengthen Ricci’s Law to require ignition interlocks for all first-time convicted drunk drivers for a period of at least three months.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers save lives and reduce drunk driving recidivism by 67 percent. States that are enforcing all-offender ignition interlock laws, such as Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico, and Louisiana, have seen their drunk driving deaths drop by more than 30 percent, largely due to laws requiring all drunk drivers to receive the device.

“As a survivor of a pedestrian crash caused by a repeat offender drunk driver, I know firsthand the devastation that can be caused by a repeat offender,” said Mr. Benvenisti.

MADD regards the New Jersey Senate vote as a significant victory for its Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving. “Being that MADD has been aggressively supporting S-2427 since its inception, by appearing in Trenton for Senate testimony, along with other measures, it is particularly gratifying to see this crucial bill advance further, commented Mr. Benvenisti. “I am confident that once the bill becomes the law of New Jersey, there will be a significant reduction of fatalities on our roadways.”

MADD is the nation’s largest nonprofit working to protect families from drunk driving and underage drinking. For more information, call (877) ASK-MADD or visit: www.madd.org.

—Linda Arntzenius