Device would allow some NJ drunken-driving offenders to drive while sober

 Steven Benvenisti, a New Jersey attorney who represents victims of drunken drivers, said 25 other states have adopted similar ignition interlock legislation. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Steven Benvenisti, a New Jersey attorney who represents victims of drunken drivers, said 25 other states have adopted similar ignition interlock legislation. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

A bill awaiting action from Gov. Chris Christie would allow some drunken-driving offenders in New Jersey to avoid a lengthy license suspension.

 

First-time offenders with a blood-alcohol content of 0.10 percent or lower could get a 10-day suspension if they agree to have an ignition lock in their vehicle that would stop them from starting the car if they are intoxicated.

At a hearing in Trenton, Steven Benvenisti of Mothers Against Drunk Driving said the incidence of fatal accidents in 25 states with similar laws has dropped significantly.

“When I was a senior at The College of New Jersey 25 years ago, I was struck and almost killed as a pedestrian by a repeat offender drunk driver,” he said. “I was hospitalized for six months, unconscious for a couple of weeks … had an ignition interlock device been in existence back then, that crash never would have occurred.”

Revising the law would allow first-time offenders to be on the road to get to their jobs, but only when sober.

“So many people rely on their vehicles to get to work, for family appointments, so on and so forth. We want then to be able to function, but we want to make sure that they’re not driving drunk,” said state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic. “The interlock device is a way to create that balance, protect the public, save the driver from himself.”

Tampering with the device or driving a car without one would be punishable by up to six months in jail.

And offenders would have to pay the cost for leasing the device.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.