You may have heard of proposed legislation in New Jersey at one time or another that would require ignition interlock devices for all drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated. An ignition interlock is a device that is installed on a vehicle and will not allow the vehicle to be started unless the driver can provide a breath sample that registers below a certain blood alcohol concentration. Under New Jersey law, a BAC of .05 or lower is required to start a vehicle with an ignition interlock.
While such a bill bill would change things for some first-time DWI offenders, ignition interlocks are already in use throughout New Jersey for a number of drivers who have been convicted of various drunk driving charges. Now is a good time to review the specifics of New Jersey’s current ignition interlock requirements following a DWI conviction.
For help with DWI charges, call the New Jersey DWI defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956
Ignition Interlock Requirements for Multiple DWI and High BAC DWI Convictions
Although the previously proposed bill was touted as a measure that would mean ignition interlocks for first-time DWI offenders, current law already allows first-time DWI charges to result in installation of an ignition interlock.
At the judge’s discretion, use of an ignition interlock can be ordered for a first DUI offense for six months to a year. The difference with the new bill is that it would require ignition interlocks for all first-time DWI offenders rather than leaving the decision up to a judge’s discretion. For DUIs involving a particularly high BAC (.15 or higher), current law always requires an ignition interlock for six months to a year.
For a second or third DWI, an ignition interlock is also already required under current New Jersey law. After a second or third drunk driving conviction, you must install an ignition interlock during your period of driver’s license suspension, and you must continue to use the ignition interlock for one to three years after your license has been restored.
While the order to install an ignition interlock comes from the court, it is the driver’s responsibility to contact an approved ignition interlock provider and ensure that the device is installed. Drivers are responsible for installation costs, maintenance fees and other expenses incident to the use of an ignition interlock.
What Does an Ignition Interlock Do after DWI Charges in NJ?
If you are required by a judge to use an ignition interlock after DWI charges, it means you physically cannot drive your car drunk. Simply put, an ignition interlock is a breathalyzer attached to a lock on your car’s ignition system. Unless the breathalyzer registers a “clean” breath test (i.e., breath from a sober driver), the car will not be able to start.
Having an ignition interlock on your car is thought of as a rehabilitative measure. That is, instead of simply punishing you for your DWI, an ignition interlock helps conform your behavior to the law. Drivers know that if they try to drink and drive while they have an ignition interlock, it won’t get them very far.
It is also considered an “incapacitative” measure. Incapacitation in this context means stopping people from committing crime. For example, if you are in jail, you cannot commit another DWI because you have no access to a car. An ignition interlock allows people to stay free of incarceration but still face similar levels of incapacitation; they cannot start their car and commit another DWI.
While interlocks seem like a great idea to help stop people from committing DWIs, they also result in additional restrictions and punishment for people who are already facing other penalties from DWI charges.
Downsides of Ignition Required Ignition Interlocks for NJ DWI Charges
Society tends to embrace ignition interlocks because they are a powerful tool to stop people from committing multiple DWI offenses. When people have proven to be habitual drinkers who commit multiple DWIs, an ignition interlock seems like the best way to keep them from future DWIs without locking them up or even necessarily taking away their license. However, there are some strong downsides to ignition interlocks that make them more punitive than you might expect.
The first thing to be suspicious of with DWI ignition interlocks is the question of who pays for them. When ignition interlocks are ordered as part of the penalties associated with a DWI conviction, the judge will order you to get one installed. That cost of installation, operation, maintenance, and eventual removal usually falls on the defendant.
That means that on top of the potential jail time for a high-BAC DWI charge or multiple DWI charges, you could also face fines, the cost of reinstating your driver’s license insurance surcharges for the next 3 years, and the added cost of your ignition interlock. For low-income defendants, this is especially punitive. You might be able to take advantage of payment plans and assistance programs if you cannot afford your interlock, but that means putting even more time into the paperwork and such.
Preventing Installation of an Ignition Interlock in an NJ DWI Case
All of this can add insult to injury when you are trying to get to and from work and manage a substance use issue. Working with our New Jersey DWI defense lawyers, you might be able to get charges dropped or reduced in the first place to avoid a potential interlock. Our lawyers can also work to convince the judge that an ignition interlock would not be helpful or that it would be overly burdensome – which is only permitted as long as ignition interlocks are optional and not mandatory.
If the New Jersey legislature were to pass a law that would make ignition interlocks mandatory, it would probably affect drivers in all cases where their BAC is over .08%. While you can be charged with a DWI for a BAC under .08% (or in cases where there is no BAC result because you refused the breathalyzer test), cases where the driver tested over .08% account for most DWI convictions in the state. This would mean that nearly every DWI charge would result in a mandatory ignition interlock, even when the driver has not been shown to be a habitual drinker, a habitual offender, or at risk of re-offense.
So long as ignition interlocks are used only at a judge’s discretion, our defense lawyers can argue that it would not make sense to use an ignition interlock in your case. For example, if you do not usually drink, let alone drink and drive, then it would not be especially relevant to you to have an ignition interlock on your car. It would also not typically be an issue for you to get behind the wheel of a car drunk if you do not have a car and were borrowing someone else’s car at the time of the DWI arrest.
Penalties for Failing or Avoiding an Interlock in New Jersey
If you have an ignition interlock on your car, failing it means that you cannot start your car. There are not usually penalties for failing an ignition interlock test, but there is a log kept of each failure, and it could be used as evidence of certain probation violations.
That means that the main penalty for failing an interlock is that you cannot drive. Your interlock might also request a re-test while you are driving, potentially stranding you if you began drinking after starting the car or if your BAC climbed after you began driving.
Another incredibly important point is that you cannot drive a car without an interlock if you were ordered to use an ignition interlock. This means that it would be a violation to fail to get an interlock installed or to drive someone else’s car. It is also a violation to have someone else blow into the interlock for you. That means you should not avoid the interlock by driving another car, and you should call a lawyer right away if you are accused of violating the terms of your interlock order in any way.
Fight DWI Charges with the Help of Our New Jersey DWI Defense Lawyers
An ignition interlock can be inconvenient, embarrassing, and expensive. But, if you are convicted of a drunk driving charge in New Jersey, it could become an ongoing reality.
If you are facing a DWI charge, get in touch with our New Jersey DWI defense attorneys today, particularly if this is a second or subsequent DWI. While defending against DWI charges is challenging, an arrest is not the same as a conviction. By standing up for your legal rights and retaining an experienced attorney, you have the best odds of successfully fighting a DWI charge.
For a free review of your charges, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych today at (609) 616-4956.