New Jersey may introduce less restrictive penalties for first-time drunk driving offenders. The state senate has approved a bill that proposes changes to the standard requirements for drivers who have been charged with a DUI for the first time. New Jersey drunk driving lawyers say that the bill, if passed, may keep drivers not only from driving drunk, but also from driving on a suspended license.
Under current state law, first-time DUI offenders can face up to 30 days of jail time and must pay a fine of $250 to $500. A first drunk driving conviction also comes with a period of mandatory license suspension—up to three months for a blood alcohol level lower than .10, and seven to twelve months for anything above a .10. Refusal to take a breathalyzer test carries penalties of license suspension for six months to a year, and a judge can also order an ignition-interlock device, or IID installed in the driver's car either concurrently or consecutively if he is convicted of a DUI without chemical evidence. Under the 2010 Ricci's Law, first-time drunk drivers who refuse to take a breathalyzer test, or who blow a BAC of .15 percent or above, are subject to a year of license suspension. In addition, they must have an IID installed for six months following the suspension.
IIDs have become an increasingly popular requirement for those convicted of driving under the influence. The device requires a breath sample before allowing a driver to start the car, and will lock the ignition if the driver is not sober. In New Jersey, IIDs are usually required as part of the penalties for a second offense, or in extreme cases, a first offense DUI. IID requirements serve as a secondary step, after a license suspension, to ensure that drunk drivers are not returning to their bad habits.
The new bill, S-2427, is aimed at getting drivers who have been charged with a first-time DUI back on the road, but only if they are not trying to drive under the influence. Instead of suspending a driver's license, the bill proposes a sentencing order to install an IID in the driver's car. The period of time the IID must be installed is dependent on the driver's blood alcohol level at the time of arrest—3 months for first-time offenders with a BAC under .10 percent, and a maximum of a year for offenders who blow a .10 or over. Although similar to Ricci's law, New Jersey DUI lawyers report that the bill covers all first-time offenders, and eliminates the period of license suspension. Those found driving without an IID would face disorderly persons charges.
Under the proposed legislation, second- and third-time DUI offenders would be required to have an IID installed in their cars, for 2-4 years for a second offense, and 10-20 for a third. The new legislation does allow for a "restricted use license" for drivers with one or more DUI charges on their record, which would allow them to drive to and from work or for job-related purposes. The work license is a new measure, and DUI attorneys hope that it will be a useful tool for keeping drunk drivers employed and able to turn their lives around after an accident or arrest.
Supporters of the bill cite the "general trend" of IIDs as "the most effective tool for separating the drinking from the driving," and say that it does not impose harsh penalties on those for whom drunk driving was a one-time, isolated occurrence. While the bill prevents drivers from operating their own vehicles while intoxicated, skeptics warn that, without a suspended license, offenders could simply borrow a friend or relative's car if they are unable to start their own car.
New Jersey drunk driving attorneys at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA realize the importance of being able to drive. This legislation would allow those convicted to continue to drive, and carry on an otherwise normal life, while reducing the number of intoxicated drivers on the road. Neither license suspension nor the installation of an interlock device guarantees against drunk driving, but limiting the ability of intoxicated drivers to operate the vehicle may be an effective policy.