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NJ DWI Offenders Could Avoid License Suspension Under New Bill

Demonstration of Ignition Interlock Device - File / Photo: TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images

Demonstration of Ignition Interlock Device (file/credit: TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images

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TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Lawmakers in New Jersey are mulling over a bill which would change how drunk driving offenders are treated and punished.

The bill could allow drivers convicted of a first DWI to avoid a license suspension by agreeing to install an ignition interlock device in their car. The device requires the driver to take and pass a Breathalyzer-like test before starting the car.

“Proven to reduce repeat offenses by 67 percent,” according to federal statistics, said Frank Harris of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

But some say the measure restricts judges too much.

“There should be some discretion left to the judges to look at each case,” Bergen County Bar Association president and attorney Gerald Salerno told WCBS 880’s Levon Putney.

He said he thinks the bill should allow for some conditional driving privileges.

“To go back and forth to work or to go to school or something like that,” said Salerno.

Teaneck attorney Steven Benvenisti in on the national board of MADD. He was hit by a repeat offender 25 years ago, Putney reported.

“This device saves lives,” Benvenisti said. “I was unconscious for two weeks, I had 15 major surgeries.”

“Last year in New Jersey alone, we lost 154 people to drunk drivers,” he added.

Harris said the bill as proposed is about prevention.

“Conditional licenses do not change a drunk driver’s behavior,” Harris said.

The current DWI law imposes a mandatory license suspension for at least three months for first-time offenders. Repeat offenders are required to install ignition interlock devices, as are first-time offenders who have a blood-alcohol level over 0.15 percent.

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