New York Requires Alcohol Interlocks for First-Time Drunken Drivers

July 20, 2010, 4:00 pm
By JIM MOTAVALLI
The New York Times
On Aug. 15, a new zero tolerance policy begins for driving drunk in New York State. Under the provisions of what’s being called Leandra’s Law, anyone convicted of misdemeanor or felony drunken driving willbe required to install (for a minimum of six months) an ignition interlock breathalyzer device that won’t allow the car to start if it detects a threshold level of alcohol on the driver’s breath.
According to Robert Maccarone, director of the state Office of Probation and Correctional Alternatives, New York is the 10th state to require drivers to install the devices after a first offense. At the driver’s expense, the alcohol interlocks are leased, at a monthly charge of $70 to $110, and an installation cost of zero (some are installed free) to $100. Mr. Maccarone said the state has an average of 25,000 drunken-driving convictions annually, about 4,000 of which are in New York City.
The devices, which have to be leased from one of seven state-contracted manufacturers, have a low tolerance for alcohol. In New York, they will prevent the car from starting if the driver has 0.025 blood-alcohol content or more. The criminal DWI limit is 0.08. And it’s not easily deterred: To prevent a sober friend from doing the test (itself a misdemeanor), the device conducts a “rolling retest” within 5 to 15 minutes. “So if the driver doesn’t have his buddy along, it won’t do much good,” Mr. Maccarone said. Some units also have cameras that take photos of the driver.
A failed retest results in the horn beeping and a gradually increasing loud noise from the unit. According to the Web site of one company, Lifesaver Interlock, the devices can deter hot-wiring and push-starting of interlocked cars, and can be programmed to restrict driving hours by allowing tests only at prescribed times.
Leandra’s Law, which also makes it a felony to drive while intoxicated with a child under 16 in the car, is so-named because of the 2009 death of Leandra Rosado, 11. She was killed last October being thrown from a car driven by a drunken driver. Her father, Lenny, became an outspoken advocate for the law passed last year.
Denna Cohen, the president and victim’s advocate of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving Long Island chapter, said the new law will “save lives.” In 1989, Ms. Cohen lost her daughter, Jody, 21, to a drunken driver. “This is absolutely effective,” she said. “One drunk driver is all it takes to wreak havoc on a family.”
The effectiveness of interlocks appears to be borne out by statistics.“We know that alcohol interlocks do work to reduce recidivism, and strengthening interlocks to include first offenders is the logical step to curb alcohol-impaired driving,” said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research organization funded by auto insurers. “According to an institute study of drivers with alcohol interlocks installed for a year after convictions, repeat offense drunken driving violations were down by 64 percent [PDF].
Mr. Maccarone said that mandatory alcohol interlocks in New Mexico reduced drunken driving recidivism by 37 percent from 2002-8.
Automakers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are also studying the concept of requiring all cars to have advanced alcohol detection systems. “That would stop any impaired driver from getting on the road,” Mr. Rader said.

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