Mandatory Ignition Interlock Bill

Albano/Diegnan/Johnson Bill Requiring Ignition Breathalyzer for DUI Convictions Advances

By Droseman
June 8, 2009
(TRENTON) – Legislation Assemblymen Nelson T. Albano, Patrick J. Diegnan and Gordon M. Johnson sponsored to make ignition interlocks mandatory for all drunk driving offenses in New Jersey was released today from the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

“We need to send a message loud and clear to both habitual and would-be drunk drivers: the party’s over,” said Albano (D-Cumberland/Atlantic/Cape May), whose son was killed in 2001 by a repeat drunk driver. “If you get caught driving drunk you will face severe penalties and, through the interlocks, will only be able to operate your car when sober.”

The measure would be known as “Ricci’s Law” to honor the memory of Ricci Branca, a 17-year-old Egg Harbor Township teen. Ricci was bike riding with friends when a drunk driver plowed into the group and fled the scene. When police caught the driver, his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.339 percent – more than four times the state’s legal limit of 0.08 percent. Several other teens were gravely injured during the accident; Ricci died of his injuries four days later.

Ignition interlocks are devices similar to a breathalyzer that – at the order of the courts – can be installed on the steering column and wired into the ignition of motor vehicles of drunk driving offenders. When attempting to start the vehicle, the driver must first blow into the device. If the interlock registers above a specific BAC – usually greater than 0.02 percent or 0.04 percent – the vehicle is rendered inoperable.

“If this legislation can save even one life, then it is well worth doing,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “Anything that makes it harder for drunk drivers to get behind the wheel of a car or truck should be immediately embraced.”

Under the Albano/Diegnan/Johnson measure (A-3073), the bill would require all individuals convicted of a second or subsequent drunk driving offense have an ignition interlock device installed on any vehicle they own, lease or would operate during the period that their driver’s license is suspended. First offenders whose BAC was 0.15 percent or higher also would be required to have the device installed on their vehicles, in addition to installing the device for six months to one year after restoration of their driver’s license. The courts would retain discretion as provided under current law to require installation of the device for all other first offenders.

The measure also would allow an individual other than the driver to start the vehicle for safety purposes or to make repairs, but only if the owner does not operate the vehicle. Under current law doing so is a disorderly persons offense and carries fines of up to $1,000.

“We owe it to every law-abiding driver to do everything in our power to keep drunk drivers off our roadways,” said Johnson, the committee’s chairman. “Requiring mandatory interlocks will go a long way towards improving the safety of good drivers and the public.”

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