Syracuse, NY - The cost of a conviction for driving while intoxicated in New York state is about to go up, both in cash and shame.
Starting today, anyone sentenced for felony or misdemeanor DWI, whether a first-time or repeat offender, will have to install an ignition interlock in any vehicle they own or operate. The interlock contains a breath-checking unit that keeps the car from starting if the offender’s blood-alcohol level registers 0.025 or higher, a little less than one-third of the legal limit.
The device could cost the offender up to $125 to install, with fees ranging from $70 to $110 a month, depending on the sophistication of the unit, state Probation Director Robert Maccarone said.
It must stay hooked up for the duration of the offender’s conditional discharge or probation — anywhere from six months to five years, depending on the sentence. Add in service fees, insurance and other costs and the tab can run into the thousands of dollars, on top of any court fines, surcharges and lawyer’s fees.
Offenders caught driving without an interlock — by driving a buddy’s car or renting a vehicle, for example, could land in jail for up to a year. Those who try to help an offender by blowing into an interlock are subject to the same penalty. Most models will be equipped with a camera.
Within five minutes of starting the car, the interlock will order the driver to pull over and restart the car. For longer rides, drivers will be required at random times to stop the car and restart. Maccarone said this feature is intended to prevent drivers from drinking after they start the car.
It’s invasive, he said. And effective.
“The addition of ignition interlocks will save lives in New York state,” said Maccarone, who led the team that wrote the regulation. “It’s been proven in other states. New Mexico realized a 37 percent reduction in DWI recidivism.”
New York’s yearly DWI fatalities have declined, for various reasons, from roughly 1,000 15 years ago to about about 325. Maccarone said he believes the new law will bring those numbers down further.
Besides cutting down on repeat DWIs, he said, the “invasive change in lifestyle” represented by the interlock — including the need for drivers to explain to children, co-workers and other passengers why they must blow into a machine to start the car — is expected to discourage drunk driving, too.
“I would think there would certainly be a shame factor for those who don’t see it as a badge of honor,” Onondaga County Sheriff Kevin Walsh said. “For the dedicated drunk who is going to do anything, who doesn’t care about being publicly humiliated or arrested or possibly even has been in and out of jail for it, it won’t have that effect.
“But for the average person who has one too many and steps over the line, I think it certainly would have an embarrassment effect for them.”
Whether that will be enough to persuade more people to take a cab or find a designated driver is unknown, Walsh said. “But it’s one more thing to make people think, it may help — it may keep a few people from getting behind the wheel.”
The changes are the last provisions to go into effect under the Child Passenger Protection Act, better known as Leandra’s Law, which went into force on Dec. 18.
The earlier provisions made it a felony punishable by up to four years in prison to drive while drunk or high on drugs when a child younger than 16 is in the vehicle. The sentence rises to up to 15 years if the child is seriously injured and up to 25 years if the child dies.
Through Aug. 8, 392 people had been charged statewide under Leandra’s Law, including 24 from Onondaga and the four surrounding counties, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
By comparison, 25,700 New Yorkers were sentenced for felony or misdemeanor DWI in 2008, Maccarone said.That’s about 10 times the number of state DWI offenders now driving with court-ordered interlocks, he said.
That number is making lawmakers in some counties jittery about costs. The six companies with contracts to provide interlocks must pay the tab if a judge determines an offender can’t. Still, the law requires county officials to make sure the interlocks are installed and to monitor them.
Cortland, Madison, Cayuga and Oswego counties are among at least 23 statewide that asked the state to put off the interlock provision until funds could be found or have another agency such as the state police be responsible for administering the law. A bill that would make county STOP-DWI agencies the local administrators and steer $6.8 million in surcharges and fees to them annually passed the Senate in June but is stalled in the Assembly.
In Onondaga County, STOP-DWI Coordinator Barry Weiss said county officials agree to use existing resources to manage the law.
“We understand there’s some cost associated with this and we’re going to see what that means,” Weiss said. “But we’re not going to be saying, ‘Oh, it’s a mandate, we’re not going to follow it.’ We need to follow the law and we’re going to do it.”
John Mariani / The Post-Standard
Published: Sunday, August 15, 2010, 6:00 AM
Updated: Monday, August 16, 2010, 6:50 AM
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