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New Law Cracks Down on DWI Offenders

By Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski)

<p>Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski)</p>
Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski)

New York recently took another important step toward tougher penalties for DWI offenders. Leandra’s Law was signed by the Governor last week. Leandra’s Law makes driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol with a child a felony. The law also makes New York one of a dozen states to require all convicted drunken drivers use an ignition interlock device, which prevents them from driving their car if they are drunk.

Sadly, this law passed due to the tragic death of Leandra Rosado on Oct. 11. Her grieving father was instrumental in seeing this law come to fruition. Leandra Rosado was killed after the mother of one of her friends flipped her car on the Henry Hudson Parkway in Manhattan while she was allegedly intoxicated and driving with a car full of children. Rosado’s efforts, combined with Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s lobbying arm, and many other supporters, helped the bill overcome initial resistance. In the end, the bill passed unanimously. Increasing the offense to a Class E felony status means the offender could serve up to four years in prison.

I’m pleased our state has toughened penalties for those who put children’s welfare directly at risk. Hopefully this measure will save lives. I’m also pleased our state has expanded the mandates for ignition interlock devices for DWI offenders. The device measures the blood alcohol content of the driver. Users must breathe into the device prior to starting the car. The car will not start if the device detects a certain level of blood alcohol concentration.

Previously, the ignition interlock was mandatory for those convicted of aggravated DWI (.18 blood alcohol content and higher) and for those with a previous alcohol-related driving conviction within the last five years. This law expands the ignition interlock requirement to include anyone convicted of a misdemeanor DWI. Studies show that many people convicted of driving under the influence continue to drive even after their license is suspended. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that repeat drunken driving offenses dropped 65 percent for those with interlock devices.

With 4,000 drunken driving fatalities in the state since 1998, including 341 deaths in 2008 alone, drunk driving clearly continues to be a serious problem. The ignition interlock mandate in this law aims to address this problem. Its focus is on prevention rather than punishment. It also sends a strong message, once again, to anyone considering driving under the influence to think again. If caught, there will be serious consequences.

Many continue to view driving drunk as an option, which is unfortunate for all who are on the road. I am hopeful tougher penalties for those who put their lives and other people’s lives at risk will ultimately save lives. If our state continues to penalize offenders in this fashion, perhaps we can prevent such events like the horrible Leandra Rosando tragedy from reoccurring.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.