New Jersey Legislators Push for Expanded DUI Ignition Interlock Penalties

Article provided by New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyer - Anthony N. Palumbo

Legislation has been proposed in New Jersey that would make the installation of an ignition interlock device a mandatory penalty for all drivers convicted of drunk driving or refusing to take a breathalyzer. These devices are essentially breathalyzer machines integrated with a car's ignition system, which prevent drivers from starting the car if their blood alcohol concentration is higher than 0.05%.

New Jersey's DUI laws already require the installation of ignition interlock devices for repeat offenders and first-time drunk drivers with a blood alcohol content of at least 0.15%. The proposed changes would extend the mandatory ignition interlock requirement to all first-time DUI and refusal offenders, however, and replace existing license suspension penalties with restricted license requirements.

Existing License Suspension and Ignition Interlock Penalties

New Jersey's current DUI laws provide as follows:

  • First-time offenders are subject to a 3 month to 1 year license suspension and may be required, at the judge's discretion, to install an ignition interlock device for 6 months to 1 year following the reinstatement of their driving privileges. If a first offender's blood alcohol concentration is 0.15% or higher, however, conviction requires an ignition interlock device to be installed during the license suspension period and for 6 months to 1 year following the reinstatement of driving privileges.
  • The license suspensions for second and third-time offenders are 2 years and 10 years, respectively, and these offenders are also required to install ignition interlock devices during the license suspension period and for 1 to 3 years following the reinstatement of their driving privileges.
  • First-time refusal offenses carry a license suspension of 7 months to 1 year and require the installation of an ignition interlock device during the license suspension period and for 6 months to 1 year following the reinstatement of driving privileges.
  • The license suspensions for second and third-time refusal offenders are 2 years and 10 years, respectively, and these offenders must also install an ignition interlock device during the license suspension period and for 1 to 3 years following the reinstatement of their driving privileges.

Proposed Changes to DUI License Suspension and Ignition Interlock Penalties

While emphasizing and increasing ignition interlock penalties, the proposed DUI penalty modifications would actually reduce the license suspensions required under current law. This approach recognizes that most drunk drivers continue to drive even after their licenses have been suspended and provides a possible solution that would allow them to do so legally, within narrow limits.

An early version of the ignition interlock bill was criticized for creating a loophole because the law would not have applied to drivers who did not own a vehicle. These offenders would have remained able to use vehicles owned by friends or family members without installing an ignition device, and they could even continue to use their own vehicles without the restriction by transferring title but not possession to another person.

To address this loophole, a revised version of the ignition interlock bill was introduced in the state legislature in May, 2012. This bill specified that the ignition interlock requirement would be postponed for offenders who did not own or lease their own motor vehicle and would commence only upon the offender's registration of an owned or leased vehicle. The bill also required offenders to obtain a restricted use drivers license during the ignition interlock period, which would limit them to driving vehicles with ignition interlock devices and only for employment-related purposes.

The ignition interlock bill was reintroduced in February, 2013, with further revisions and refinements. The bill's newest incarnation requires offenders to install an ignition interlock device and obtain a restricted use license within 10 days after being convicted, during which time they are subject to a temporary license suspension. However, if the offender does not own, lease, or "principally operate" a vehicle, the ignition interlock and restricted license provisions do not apply and the offender must instead forfeit all driving privileges for a period of time similar to the license suspensions provided for drunk drivers under existing law.

Understanding New Jersey's Drunk Driving Penalties

If you have questions about the penalties for drunk driving and refusing a breathalyzer in New Jersey, contact an experienced DUI/DWI defense attorney.