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DWI Violations and Mandatory Interlock Devices

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Everyone knows that driving under the influence is a serious offense in New Jersey. The message is in commercials, on billboards, and taught in driver's ed. courses - yet many drivers don't get it.

About 26.9% of all traffic fatalities in New Jersey are caused by drunk driving, causing irreversible pain for the families of the victims and about $992 million in taxpayer subsidies, besides the unnecessary deaths. While the law tries to lower this shocking number by setting up sobriety checkpoints and holding non-drivers partially responsible for liability that arises from the distribution of alcohol (like social hosts, bars and liquor stores), these can't prevent drunk driving in the first place.

In 2010, New Jersey required all convicted drunk drivers with a blood alcohol level ("BAC") higher than .15% to have a mandatory interlock device installed in their vehicles for a specified period of time. The device, which is connected to the ignition, prevents a car or truck from starting if the driver's blood alcohol level exceeds .05%. While he or she is allowed to shop for the device, it must meet the following requirements, including: 1) that it not impede the driving of the vehicle, 2) that it correlate with established measurements for alcohol testing, 3) that it maintain a certain level of reliability and 4) that the company that produces it also provide liability insurance. If all of these items are satisfied and the sentence requiring the interlock is satisfied, then a license suspension can be lifted (as long as other factors, such as potential prison time or fines are also fulfilled). For any additional charges after the first DWI offense, the length of time with the device installed may reach up to 3 years.

Drivers who attempt to dodge the requirement, either by driving a vehicle without an interlock device, by tampering with the interlock device, or having a passenger, family member or friend blow into it to start the ignition, may face 6 months of jail time and 1 additional year added to the interlock requirement. It is also a condition for keeping a New Jersey license. It doesn't apply if the driver moves to another state, but during the time out of state, the New Jersey license is considered suspended until the time period has been fulfilled. That may prevent the other state from issuing a license in the first place.

Drivers without a license or a vehicle can still fulfill their interlock device requirement by obtaining a non-driver ID and installing the device on any vehicle the driver intends to use. The "bottom line" is that instead of looking for ways to cheat the system, drivers with a DWI record should spend their energies seeking treatment or counseling to ensure that another violation, and potential future tragedy, doesn't happen again. Loree Varella, Rutgers School of Law Newark candidate for a JD degree in May 2016 collaborated on this blog. She is Associate Editor of the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal and Managing Research Editor of that publication.

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