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July 26, 2010

New York about to require ignition locks as mandated punishment for drunk driving

I am pleased to see this new New York Law Journal piece, headlined "Drunken Drivers in N.Y. Must Install Devices to Monitor Alcohol Use," reporting that the Empire State is about to mandate a seemingly effective form of technocorrections for persons convicted of a crime that leads to thousands of deaths every year. Here are some of the interesting details:

A new program will go into effect on Aug. 15 in New York that requires anyone convicted of drunken driving to install a device in their cars that will determine whether they are sober before the vehicle will start.  Roughly 25,000 people statewide are convicted each year on charges of drunken driving.

Under the new program, which was adopted as a part of "Leandra's Law," anyone convicted of driving while intoxicated must have the devices installed at their own expense and once a month report to a location where the data recorded by the machine can be analyzed to determine how often the driver exceeded blood alcohol limits.

With the device, known as an ignition interlock breathalyzer, installed, the drivers will have to pass a test to show they have less than one drink in their system before the car will start, and they must use a Breathalyzer at regular intervals to prove they are not drinking and driving.

The devices will not permit a car to start if the driver registers a blood alcohol level of .025 percent or higher. Drivers face criminal charges if their blood alcohol reading exceeds .08 percent....

Judge Judy Harris Kluger, chief of policy and planning for the court system, said that the courts are "well prepared" to meet the Aug. 15 startup date.  About 1,000 village and town court justices and employees of those courts have been trained on implementing the new law, she said. A similar program will be conducted through the Internet for all 1,300 state-funded judges on Aug. 3.

Kluger recognized that judges will have an "additional responsibility" in analyzing detailed financial statements from defendants to determine if they are eligible for a fee waiver, but added that the courts will not know the impact for several months....

Motorists convicted of drunken driving charges will have to pay up to $100 to have the devices installed and a monthly fee of between $70 and $100 depending upon which model and which installer they use.  The seven manufacturers approved by the Department of Probation, will bear the cost of providing the devices to convicted motorists who are unable to pay for them.

In any case where a motorist is convicted of driving while under the influence, judges must require the defendant use the device for at least six months.  The requirement can be imposed with a conditional discharge, most likely in the case of first offenders, or as a condition of probation.

Currently, probation is required in about 9,000 of the 25,000 drunken driving cases, with several hundred jailed and the balance fined, [according to Robert Maccarone, the director of the New York State Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives].  He added that he did not expect that figure to change after Aug. 15. Defendants who go to sentence would be required to install the devices once they have served their terms....

The seven manufacturers must contract with enough installers -- retailers of electronics and security systems -- so that no convicted motorist will have to travel more than 50 miles to have the device installed or to attend monthly compliance checkups.

Each of the manufacturers produces devices at varying levels of sophistication. In addition to the basic model, some have cameras to record who is taking the breathalyzer test and others have global positioning systems.

The requirement for the interlock ignition devices was enacted as a part of Leandra's law, which was adopted in response to the October 2009 death of Leandra Rosado, 11, who was thrown from a car being driven by a drunken driver.

I believe that New York is the largest state to create an ignition lock mandate for those convicted of drunk driving.  As detailed in some prior posts, there is (undisputed?) evidence that every state with serious ignition lock laws have experienced significant decreases in the number of drunken-driving accidents and deaths.  If a very politically prominent state like New York has such positive experiences with Leandra's law, it could prompt adoption of similar programs nationwide and perhaps significantly decrease the harmful scourge that is drunk driving.

Some related posts on sentencing drunk drivers and advocacy for ignition locks:

July 26, 2010 at 04:06 PM | Permalink


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I must say that I am almost universally skeptical of laws that have someone's name attached to them. They are generally borne out of tragedy, and rarely are they well-thought out, measured responses to the evils that are trying to be banished.

Posted by: Guy | Jul 26, 2010 9:05:27 PM

It's pretty easy to work around these things by having someone else blow into them.

It would be far cheaper and more of a deterrent to flag the license plates of convicted DUI's. As a condition of their sentence they would be subject to being pulled over without cause to have their sobriety checked any time of the day or night.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Jul 27, 2010 12:28:50 AM

On the first offense these aren't worth the bang for the buck. For repeat offenders, absolutely. As far as I know, the other states doing it tend to start on the second offense. The volume of first offenders is too high and most of them won't recidivate anyway.

I agree with Guy - I'm universally skeptical of laws named after dead children. Three times as many kids drown each as die in DWI auto accidents, so where's the bill with a dead kid's name on it paying to hire more lifeguards? You'd save more children's lives that way.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jul 27, 2010 6:55:14 AM

This would be of enormous benefit to Alabama, since all DUI convictions result in loss of license for at least some extended period (starting, I think, with six months). I would love to see something like this replace loss of license and incarceration, neither of which addresses the problem. The silliness of a law that imposes huge fines and then takes away your drivers license in a state with no public transportation boggles the mind.

Posted by: Ala JD | Jul 27, 2010 11:20:42 AM

Thanks, Ala JD, for spotlighting one of many reasons I favor the use of interlock ignition devices. This punishment is a form of selective incapacitation targets directly the criminal conduct/risk without creating undue burdens on the defendant or undue costs on the state. (Even the monthly fee for the device that has to be covered by the defendant is not much more than a couple of tanks of gas.)

Grits, I would be all for a Baywatch bill to hire more lifeguards if there was reason to believe that the kid drowning problem could be effectively mitigated this way. In the meantime, though, I think everyone should praise (and closely follow) NY's experiment here to assess its efficacy.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jul 27, 2010 12:40:57 PM

I like the idea of the ignition interlock device, but wish they wouldn't charge for it. Sure, paying fees and fines are part of *taking responsibility* for one's actions, but fees and fines are also a huge barrier to indigent clients who actually want to do what they're supposed to but don't have the cash. I have seen loads of pointless misdemeanor PVs generated by folks not complying b/c they just don't have the money for treatment or community service orientation or theft classes or mental health evaluations... the list is long and getting longer.

Posted by: Oregon Public Defender | Jul 27, 2010 2:11:44 PM

Doug, if you don't believe lifeguards prevent drowning, why would they post them at swimming pools?

And why do you think this effort should be "praised" BEFORE its "efficacy" is assessed? That sounds more like the stance of an ideologue than a scholar. The cost-benefit analysis doesn't really work for first offenders, though I agree it does for repeaters. In Houston they made DWI probation conditions super-tough on the first offense and all it did was needlessly fill up the jail. So even if you think I "should" praise the program with no reason or evidence, I'll decline and wait for the (entirely predictable) results when people start refusing probation to avoid all the fees Oregon PD complains about and local jails fill up.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jul 28, 2010 10:12:55 AM

Grits, I hope lifeguards prevent drowning, but I am not sure your drowning stats reflect drownings at public pools. My sense is that a large % of kids drown in backyard pools and bathtubs and other places where it would be hard to get bang for the bunk from lifeguards.

I think this effort should be praised because, as I suggested before, ignition locks serve as a form of selective incapacitation that targets directly the criminal conduct/risk without creating undue burdens on the defendant or undue costs on the state. The problems you link in your article hinge on (1) giving a choice between a few days in jail and a long probation term, and (2) probation terms that do not seem well designed to reduce the risk of recidivism.

More critically, you seem ready to acknowledge that ignition locks are a good idea for someone who has been guilty of drinking and driving TWICE. The question then is should we assume this is a good or bad idea for first-time DUI. I urge you and others to welcome the fact that New York is going to help us find out --- and seems likely to save innocent lives on the road (though perhaps generate big costs) while running this important experiment.

Especially for a crime like DUI --- which causes great harms and seems much more deterable and preventable than many other crimes --- I think we should praise thoughtful non-incarcerative innovations rather than assume they are doomed to failure. You may disagree, and with luck we will get good data from NY in the coming months and years so that we can make an informed judgment going forward.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jul 28, 2010 12:20:40 PM

I look forward to a having your phones' location monitored if a police officer ever spotted you using your cell phone in your car. Perhaps install a device in your car that determines whether (i) you're driving, and (ii) whether your phone is in your car and not turned completely off. If you fail (i) and (ii), you go to jail. Let's run this fantastic experiment in your state, Doug. (I intend this as a reductio ad absurdum of your position. I might be willing to hop on board with you if the drunk driving laws were reasonable, but they aren't.)

Posted by: Graduate Student | Aug 1, 2010 11:34:48 PM

Is this really going to help, or just create a huge log-jam of unfilled orders, contractor screwups and court cases challenging some nitpicky technical aspect of the ignition locks? And like others have said, how do they plan to guarantee that random other people aren't blowing down the tube?

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