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One Strike and You're Out!
December 9, 2010

The newest additions to New York’s DWI law are Leandra’s law and the ignition interlock device.  Leandra’s law makes it a felony to drive a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs with a child who is fifteen years of age or younger in the vehicle.  The ignition interlock device is like a breathalyzer that is installed inside your vehicle and prevents the vehicle from being operated if the driver has consumed alcohol.

The ignition interlock device has been around for a while, but is now required to be installed even if it is your first conviction for DWI, aggravated DWI, or Leandra’s law.  Most states only require a driver to install the device if they have a prior drinking and driving conviction.  In New York, it is “one and done.”

If a judge orders you to install the device, you will face a number of issues:

The device must be installed in every car you own or operate, including vehicles you lease, rent, or borrow.  This can create a number of problems, such as where you own a vehicle that someone else usually drives, where you own or operate multiple vehicles, or where you share a vehicle with someone else.  The device requires any driver to provide a breath sample before the vehicle can be started.  This means that if your spouse, friend, or relative shares your vehicle, they would have to provide a breath sample before the vehicle can be started.  It also means that if you usually use someone else’s car, they would be required to install the device in their vehicle.

You may be permitted to drive a work vehicle without installing the device if you notify your employer of your driving restrictions and provide the court and probation department with written documentation that your employer has given you permission to drive without the device.  This exception only applies when you are driving for business purposes and does not apply if you are self-employed or if you own or control part of the company that you work for.

There are significant costs associated with the installation and maintenance of the device, which can be multiplied if you own or operate more than one vehicle.  Even if your driver license has been suspended or revoked, you will be required to install the device on every car you own or operate.

Get on the bus, Gus.

There is really no way around the ignition interlock device.  It can’t be beaten or tricked or disconnected.  It is a crime to tamper with the device, drive without it, or have someone else blow into it for you.  Also, the device has mechanisms in place that can detect and report tampering and certain versions of the device have a camera.

Many lawyers are advising their clients to simply get rid of their car before they are sentenced.   You can either transfer ownership of the car to someone else or sell it.  That is one way to avoid the expense and all of the legal requirements but it would, of course, mean that you cannot operate any vehicles.  The main factor is whether you actually have any driving privileges, such as a conditional license that allows you to drive to work, school, necessary medical appointments, or court-ordered probation activities.   If you do have driving privileges, the question you need to consider is whether you can live without a car for a significant period of time following your conviction.  The mandatory minimum period of time that you will be required to have the device installed is six months.  If you are not eligible for a conditional license, you may decide that it is easier if you do not own or operate any vehicles.

New York DWI law is constantly evolving and, each year, the penalties increase and the law becomes stricter.  A colleague has suggested that if the goal is to eliminate drinking drivers, then a federal law should be established that requires the ignition interlock device to be installed on every new car that is manufactured for sale in the United States.  The theory, it seems, is to make it impossible to drive a vehicle after you have consumed alcohol.  The idea is still not guaranteed to fix the problem of driving under the influence of drugs.  And whether it would constitute a permissible infringement on personal liberty is another question.

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