New Law Would Change Penalties for First Offense DWI in New Jersey

Governor Chris Christie will soon decide whether to sign a proposed law which would significantly change the penalties for individuals convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey.

The New Jersey State Senate sent the bill to Christie’s desk after passing it by a 29–4 vote. The New Jersey State Assembly had already weighed in on the bill and passed it in June 2014.

If Christie decides to enact the bill, New Jersey drivers convicted of a first offense DWI will no longer face mandatory 3-month suspensions of their drivers’ licenses. Instead, first-time DWI offenders will be subject to a mandatory license suspension lasting just 10 days.

However, the proposed law would enhance one significant penalty: the mandatory installation of ignition interlock devices on the primary vehicles of first-time DWI offenders. Under existing drunk driving law, only first-time offenders who register an extremely high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) are required to install ignition interlock devices.

The proposed legislation would require first-time offenders who register a BAC of between .08 percent and .10 percent to install the breath test device in their primary vehicle for a period of 3 months. A first offense DWI conviction for an individual who registers a BAC of between .10 percent and .15 percent would result in installation of the breath test device for up to 1 year.

Ignition interlock devices are generally effective because they block drunk drivers from starting their cars.

The proposed law received support from many organizations, including New Jersey Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). According to MADD, 24 states already have similar laws on the books. In Louisiana, New Mexico, Arizona, and Oregon, these laws have reportedly led to a 30 percent decrease in drunk driving-related deaths.

Although the legislation has widespread support, there are still some people who oppose the proposed law. Dan Phillips, the legislative liaison for the Administrative Office of the Courts, testified in front of the New Jersey Assembly Judiciary Committee and suggested that the law could be ineffective because it only requires ignition interlock devices to be installed on a drunk driving offender’s primary vehicle; the offender’s secondary vehicles will be unaffected.

Phillips also stated that the proposed law could lead to a court clog because judges in DWI cases would now need to “go through a long analysis.”

Other opponents argue that the financial cost of enacting the new DWI legislation could be very high.

Governor Christie has 45 days to make a decision about the bill.

For more information about this bill, go to the article entitled “Major Changes to N.J. Drunk Driving Law Reach Christie’s Desk.”


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