State lawmakers, MADD advocates push bill to strengthen laws against drunk driving

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ALBANY – As the end of the legislative session nears, state lawmakers and advocates from Mothers Against Drunk Driving are renewing a push to pass a bill that they say would close loopholes in the state’s drunk driving laws by mandating an ignition interlock device for offenders.

Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, sponsors the bill in the state Assembly. It would mandate an ignition interlock device on any vehicle a first-time offender drives after they are convicted of driving while intoxicated. The ignition interlock device would not allow drivers to start their vehicle if they breathe a blood alcohol content of 0.25 or higher. It is also accompanied by a camera to make sure the convicted person is the one taking the test. The length of time the device is mandated will vary by person, based on the severity of their offense. 

The legislation has already passed in the state Senate.

Currently, offenders are offered a choice of giving up their driver’s license or installing an ignition interlock device. MADD reports only 26% of arrested drunk drivers install the devices. In 2009, New York became one of the first states to require ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers as part of Leandra’s Law. Now, more than 30 states plus Washington, D.C. require ignition interlock devices for all convicted drunk drivers. 

“Given that we know that there’s a high percentage of repeat offenders, and we know most people give up their licenses instead of installing the ignition interlock, the obvious conclusion is that people are using other cars to drive,” she said. “So, we want to close that loophole and say, ‘You can keep your car, but put an ignition interlock on it.'”

The bill would also eliminate the $750 fee for a driver responsibility assessment to help people keep their driver’s license. The fee is paid over a three-year period when someone is convicted of certain traffic offenses like drunk driving. 

A report by MADD found, in New York, from 2006 to 2020, ignition interlock devices stopped 439,427 attempts by convicted drunk drivers to start their vehicles after consuming alcohol. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports drunk driving has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. It found drunk driving increased 14.3% in 2020 from the previous year. According to New York State Police statistics, drunk drivers cause more than 17,000 deaths annually, which equates to one death every 30 minutes.  

At a press conference earlier this week, Woerner was joined by Erica Linn, a Sleepy Hollow resident and a member of MADD’s NY/NJ/PA Regional Advisory Board, to push for the bill’s passage. Linn’s parents were killed by a drunk driver on her 50th birthday in 2016. 

“Since 2019, drunk driving deaths have skyrocketed 52% in New York — from 256 killed in 2019 to 388 in 2021. These crashes are not just tragic, they are preventable, and ignition interlocks are one of the most effective ways to curb this deadly epidemic,” Linn said. “This is a 100% preventable crime, and every person we lose to this crime should still be here with us today. As a victim, it is something you cannot reconcile in my head and my heart that my parents should still be here today if these laws were in place. 

Reach staff writer Ashley Hupfl at [email protected]

By Ashley Hupfl

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