New York DUI Bill in Legislative Limbo

Alcohol impaired driving accounted for 32.6% of driving fatalities in New York in 2018, according to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, and 28.8% of driving fatalities in the United States that same year. In an effort to combat alcohol-impaired driving, last year New York state legislators introduced bill #A07494A, which would amend state laws concerning the state’s ignition interlock program. Unfortunately, the bill has seen little progress, and today remains in committee.

Ignition interlock devices are basically in-car breathalyzers. Drivers must blow into a mouthpiece and register a compliant blood alcohol level before they can use their vehicle. The New York State Assembly bill “Describes the role of the ignition interlock monitor as well as requirements of people charged with violations that require the installation of an ignition interlock device to comply with court orders.” Among other things, it would require that people convicted of “misdemeanor-level DWI be prohibit- ed from operating any vehicle without a functioning ignition interlock device” for at least twelve months. It would require regular use of the device, offer a process for people who demonstrate good cause to not install the device, and clarify that failure to install such a device or tampering with a device would constitute a violation of an offender’s “condition of sentence, probation, or conditional charge,” among other provisions.

In New York, as LegalScoops pointed out in a recent post, ignition interlock technology goes back to Leandra’s Law, signed in 2009 by Governor David Peterson after an 11 year old child died in an alcohol-impaired driving accident. The law made alcohol-impaired driving driving with a person below 15 years of age a Class E felony, and provided, among other sentencing guidelines, for the mandatory use of an ignition interlock device for six months for any individual sentenced for Driving While Intoxicated. Eleven years later, as LegalScoops notes, alcohol-impaired driving remains a significant cause of death in New York and nationally. And as the Assembly’s “justification” section in the bill’s webpage explains, ignition interlock technology remains ill-used:

New York’s historic efforts to reduce the incidence of impaired driving has yielded significant results over the past four decades.  Today the likelihood of being killed by a drunk driver has been reduced by almost 70% since 1980 – in significant part because of the multi-faceted approach that focuses on the entire scope of the problem ranging from enforcement to rehabilitation.

One tool that has been vastly underutilized, despite significant empirical data supporting its effectiveness in reducing recidivism, is the ignition interlock device. Indeed – after a decade of the clear statutory requirement that misdemeanor/felony-level DWI offenders install and maintain a functioning ignition interlock device for a set post-revocation period, fewer than 30% of such offenders are installing the device.

Unfortunately, the bill remains “stalled,” as LegalScoops puts it. Introduced in 2019, it was referred to the Assembly’s transportation committee in January 2020 and has remained there since. More information on the bill, as well as its text, is available via the New York Assembly.

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