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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Think Before You Drink: The New Ignition Interlock Law

At one time or another, many people who do not consider themselves to be a person with a drinking problem have had one too many while out at a bar or other social event. And by looking at the latest statistics, many of those people choose to get behind the wheel instead of designating a sober driver or calling a taxi. DWI (driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 of 1% or over) has remained one of our State's and our country's most significant problems. But considering New York State's increasingly tough sanctions for drinking and driving, hopefully many would-be drinkers and drivers will think twice and avoid using their keys after having a cocktail.

According to Michael Hill, M.S. Ed., the Director and President of New York State's Drinking Driver Program Association, (locally administered at Dutchess Community College) in 2006 alone, there were 7,959 total motor vehicle crashes related to drinking and driving. Out of those drinking related accidents, 7,293 were injured and 397 people were killed. These are extremely frightening statistics and have been more than enough for the State Legislature to beef up DWI laws in New York.

In 2006, a host of changes to the New york State Vehicle and Traffic Law were made. Most notably: Section 1192(2)(a) of the Vehicle and Traffic Law provided for a new "aggravated" DWI, the violation of which occurs when an alcohol breath test registers a BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) of .18 and over. The penalties for violating this section are a fine from the minimum of $1,000 to a maximum of $2,500, plus state mandated surcharges, which have also recently been dramatically increased (to about $400). One year mandatory revocation of the defendant's driver's license, drinker driver program participation, if eligible, attendance of a one time victim impact panel and mandatory clinical alcoholism assessment, along with the possibility of probation. The 2006 changes also require mandatory alcoholism assessment (by an OASIS certified evaluator) of all drivers with a BAC of .15 and over. In addition, DWAI (Drinking While Ability Imapired: .05-.07 BAC) defendants must now attend the Drinker Driver Program as well. A full discussion of the impact of these changes and some of the finer points would take an entire thesis to cover, therefore, my discussion here will remain confined to the larger picture.

The Drinker Driver Program (hereinafter DDP or the Program) is a seven week course, attended once a week and is required before DMV will issue a conditional license, if the defendant in question is eligible for a conditional license. The Program also provides screening for any alcohol addiction problem that is now mandatory for anyone arrested for any offense under Section 1192 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law. Attendees must comply with any recommendations for further treatment that come from the administrators of the Program. It seems that the DDP has actually been very effective, in that attendees are statistically far less likely to drink and drive after successful completion of the Program.

With all the changes that came in 2006, there are still far too many who choose to drink and operate a vehicle. I defend many of those arrested for DWI and it is now, more than ever, an uphill battle to resolve such cases. Newest to the DWI laws is the Ignition Interlock Law (also known as Leandra's Law, named for Leandra Rosado an 11 year old girl killed in an October, 2009 drunk driving crash), which will be effective for all cases sentenced after August 15, 2010 (where the date of the offense was on or after December 15, 2009). The law requires the installation of an approved ignition interlock device (which can be extremely expensive) for motorists convicted of the following offenses: 1192(2):DWI, per se, .08 BAC; 1192(2)(a): Aggravated DWI; or 1192(3): Driving While in an Intoxicated Condition.

If all of the foregoing has not yet convinced you to think before you drink...consider the costs involved if you are arrested and convicted: The minimum attorney's fee of $1,500 (and these can go up quite a bit depending on prior offenses, etc.); Mandatory DDP fee of $225; DWAI fines of $300-$500, DWI fines of $500-$1,000, Aggravated DWI fines of $1,000-$2,500; mandatory surcharge of $400, possible mandatory alcohol evaluation by an OASIS certified evaluator ranging from $250-$500 in my experience; increased insurance rates of up to 400%; DMV administrative sanction fees for DWAI $1,135, for DWI $1,275; and now the fee to install an ignition interlock device for anywhere from $600-$1,000!!! That is a whole lot of money! If the danger you pose to others on the road is not enough to motivate you to think twice before drinking and driving- perhaps the sheer financial expense of it will. Keep safe, New York!

*Information used in this post was obtained from Michael Hill's Drinker Driver Program powerpoint presentation.

**For more information on Leandra Rosado and the accident that cut her young life short, see:

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