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New Jersey Ignition Lock Bill Approved

Legislation approved by both houses of the New Jersey state legislature would require certain first-time drunk driving offenders to install Breathalyzer-like ignition locks on their vehicles. The locks prevent the driver from starting the vehicle until he or she blows into it to get a blood alcohol reading. The driver's BAC must prove that he or she is sober before the ignition lock will allow the driver to start the vehicle.

Details of Ignition Lock Legislation

Under the terms of the legislation overwhelmingly approved by both the New Jersey Senate and Assembly, first-time drunk driving offenders who are convicted of a DUI offense and who registered at least a 0.15 BAC would have to install these vehicle ignition interlock devices on their vehicles as part of the terms of their sentencing. In the state of New Jersey as well as in many states around the country, the legal limit for drunk driving is 0.08 BAC. The installation of these devices would effectively prevent these first-time offenders from driving their own vehicles while under the influence during the prescribed period for which the devices are installed.

Under current New Jersey state law, judges already have the option of ordering these devices to be installed on the vehicles of first-time drunk driving offenders. The typical period of time they are usually on the vehicles is six to 12 months barring any further offenses. The ignition interlock devices are already required for repeat drunk driving offenders. The new legislation would add muscle to state drunk driving law. It currently awaits the signature of New Jersey Governor John Corzine. It would remove the installation of the vehicle ignition interlocks as an option for judges to consider, and make it a required part of the sentence to be served by these first-time offenders. It will certainly be interesting to witness how the legislation is received by the governor.

Drunk Driving a Nationwide Issue

As the decades have passed, the problem of drunk driving has received more and more attention both from state and national lawmakers, and from private interest groups. In recent years, beer companies and other manufacturers and distributors of alcoholic beverages have joined into a general campaign aimed at working to curb the drunk driving problem. In many parts of the country, bars and taverns have also gotten into the act, with much more time and energy going into training for bartenders and waitstaff to give them the understanding to know when to stop serving a customer.

Likewise, in many social circles much of the romantic swagger that once was associated with the act of drunk driving has disappeared, replaced with a much more responsible and concerned outlook from those involved in the habits of merry-making. The concept of the designated driver, or a sober attendee at bars or private parties where alcohol was being served, has grown from somewhat of an anomaly to a social norm.

But even so, the specter of drunk driving and the effects it has on both the affected driver and everyone else on the road have continued to reveal themselves on roads and highways all across the country. In spite of legislative efforts, marketing campaigns and shifting popular sentiment, drunk drivers are still on the road every single day. According to the group AlcoholAlert, across the country there were almost 14,000 alcohol-related auto accident fatalities in the year 2008 alone. That number represents 37 percent of all auto fatalities that year. In the state of New Jersey where this new legislation is underway, there were 197 drinking-related auto deaths in 2008. Those deaths made up 33 percent of the state's total auto fatalities for the year [1]. Even as time continues to pass and people become much more educated on the effects of excessive alcohol consumption before getting behind the wheel, it is a problem that still persists.

And it is a problem which many of us will personally encounter as drivers. According to statistics compiled by the advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), about three in every ten Americans on average will be involved in an alcohol-related car accident over the course of their lives. This means there is a great chance that you will be intimately involved in the aftereffects of one of these accidents, either as a victim or a friend or relative of those involved. In all likelihood most everyone knows someone who has been in one of these crashes at one time or another.

One of the reasons these accidents continue to happen at such a high rate is that drunk drivers tend to make the decision to get behind the wheel after imbibing alcohol in a rather habitual fashion. There is little evidence to show that very many of those arrested for drunk driving were caught the first time they made the choice to drive while impaired. In fact, statistics suggest that the average first-time drunk driving offender has already driven drunk 87 times prior to being arrested.

These sorts of statistics point to the habitual and seemingly unstoppable decision-making that results when alcohol enters the bloodstream and begins to cloud our judgment, including our own estimation of our ability to safely operate an automobile and navigate our way home after a night of drinking. This sort of compromised decision-making has characterized drunk driving behavior ever since the first driver got behind the wheel after having a few pints many decades ago.

Drunk Driving and Auto Insurance

Legislative efforts like those in New Jersey to try to curb the effects of drunk driving are welcome to most motorists. The issue of drunk driving has a strong effect on the whole concept of auto insurance, and specifically on the pricing of policies. If you have ever been convicted of a DUI or other drinking-related offense, you know first-hand the way this sort of mark on your driving record can affect the price of your policy-sometimes for many years forward even after the offense is expunged from your record legally after you serve your sentence and pay all the fines.

But it is not quite as obvious to view the effects that drunk driving behaviors can have on the pool of drivers who have committed such an offense. The truth is that even if you have never driven drunk, you may still be paying more for your policy due to the threat of this type of behavior. The risk is greater among men, because men statistically are more likely to drive drunk than women. Young people also have a higher tendency toward drunk driving. The demographic or statistic group you are placed in as a driver will determine how much this problem costs you. But make no mistake, all of us pay for the decisions of a relative few.

The decision of the New Jersey state legislature to go forward with this strengthened drunk driving legislation shows the commitment these lawmakers have to try to do what they can to counteract this problem. The New Jersey drunk driving ignition lock bill deserves the signature of the governor. Many interested parties await his action on the new legislation.

[1] http://www.alcoholalert.com/drunk-driving-statistics.html Retrieved 2010-01-20.

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