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Government looks to up the ante for DUI charges

Drinking and driving is a serious offense. Motorists convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol can face potentially life-changing consequences, even for first time offenses. Currently, in the state of New Jersey a driver convicted of a first time DUI charge with a blood alcohol content greater than .08 percent but less than .10 can face up to a month in jail, 90 days suspension of driving privileges, fines and fees, and 12 to 48 hours with the Intoxicated Driving Resource Center. If this isn't enough, the government is looking to add more.

It was recently reported that U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is pushing states to increase penalties for individuals convicted of a single DUI offense. Specifically, the NHTSA released guidelines for states to expand the use of "ignition interlock programs." Under the new guidelines, states need to begin requiring first-time DUI convicts to install ignition interlock devices in order to restore their driving privileges. Currently, a minority of U.S. jurisdictions impose these devices for single offenses.

The day before the NHTSA released its guidelines, the New Jersey state assembly introduced its own piece of legislation to expand the use of the ignition interlock device. Under the proposed New Jersey legislation, the existing ignition interlock program for repeat offenders and individuals with blood alcohol levels nearly two times the legal limit would be expanded and the state would now require the device for first-time DUI offenders. Response to the legislation is mixed, despite the fact that it advanced out of committee.

While there may be some arguments for advancing the legislation, including the fact that installing a device might replace all or part of an offender's license suspension, there are many counter-arguments. One concern for some motorists is the cost. An ignition interlock device is not cheap, and offenders must pay for the device out of pocket, both for the installation and the monitoring. While the law has not yet passed, the measure emphasizes how seriously lawmakers take DUI offenses and how much worse the penalties may become. For these reasons, it is important that any facing a drunk driving charge attempt to avoid conviction by exploring the possibility of any legal defenses.

Source: PBS News Hour, "U.S. pushes states to require first-time drunk drivers to submit to breath tests in cars," December 17, 2013

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