New Jersey considers new approach to drunken-driving penalities



New Jersey lawmakers are considering changing the state’s drunken-driving laws to increase the use of automotive devices that require a driver to provide a breath sample before the engine will start.

Assemblyman Joe Lagana, who said his bill would cut driver’s license suspension times for those convicted of drunken driving, said it would also mandate installation of the ignition interlock devices.

“After a brief period of suspension, and the interlock device is installed, they should be able to drive and kind of go about their lives, but still face the harsh penalties, monetary penalties, and really the embarrassment of having gone through this,” said Lagana, D-Bergen.

Gene Mulroy with AAA Clubs of New Jersey said Thursday he supports the measure.

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“This is the most effective option available for ensuring that alcohol consumption does not mix with driving for those most likely to drive drunk again,” Mulroy said.

Similar laws in other states have improved public safety, said Steven Benvenisti, an advocate with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

“We think it is a wonderful trade-off because lives immediately start being saved,” he said. “Crashes immediately start being reduced. Some states are seeing a 50 percent reduction in fatalities, others are seeing 30 and 40 percent.”

Dan Melega, representing the Coalition of Ignition Interlock Manufacturers, said for the first drunken-driving conviction, the interlock would be required for three to six months.

“There’s also a monitoring portion in there that if they’re clean, below [the legal blood alcohol limit of] 0.08, which the law states for a period of two months, then they could have it removed. If they don’t, then it’s going to be extended until they do,” he said. “So, they could be in their third month, violate, and then they’re going to have to have it for two more.”

Melega says it would cost drivers about $70 a month to have that equipment in their vehicle.

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